Couch Cottage

As vacation time is approaching, we ask ourselves, whether to choose the comfortable couch or the remote cottage. This is the proposition of Roger-Pol Droit in “Le Monde Livres” (“Sagesse 2024: cabane ou canapé“, 28.6.2024 p.36) based on the reading of “Ma cabane sans peine” by Alain Guyard and “Philosophie du Canapé” by Stefano Scrima.
The couch stands for the lazy life or “vita contemplativa“, thinking about philosophical topics that need a certain form of laid back behaviour to allow your brain to sort out tricky questions or to ask yourself, what is, was or will be important questions. Many academics shut themselves away from the busy life outside to reserve more time for couch thinking. The usual products of this activity practised on chairs and couches is more or less digestable books. Some make a comfortable living out of this active inactivity.
The cottage approach follows another longstanding philosophical tradition associated with Dionysos. Living a simple life in a remote place, but full of life’s enjoyment allows to exalt in the dithyrambic atmosphere of the countryside.
Rather than the either, or issue: couch or cottage, I go along with the dialectics of Hegel, who forms out of thesis and antithesis the synthesis. In our example this is obviously equal to “take the couch to the cottage“, problem solved. Additionally Nietzsches version of “Die fröhliche Wissenschaft” seems to prolong the dialectic experience of going beyond the “neither, nor” dichotomy to combine both couch and cottage.
You sensed it. It will be a rather exciting summer break to pursue on the many roads to “Sagesse 2024” (Wisdom 2024).

Infinite Landscapes

The “Alte Nationalgalerie” celebrates the 250th birthday of Caspar David Friedrich in Berlin. With a considerable effort to unite in one exhibition many paintings and drawings that stem from other collections of public and private origins. This particularly remarkable as a section of the exhibition is devoted to paintings that were intended originally to be seen next to each other (compare catalogue p. 233). Comparing 2 images from the same painter evolve into a narrative. This raises curiosity as in some instances the 2 paintings do not treat the same subject. Your very own interpretations and associations will make for an individual journey through the sheer endless spaces. The exhibition allows to grasp some of the many questions posed by the period of enlightenment not only in Germany. After “God is dead” what will happen? How is mankind defined? What is its relationship to nature? Are we just left alone or what comes after individualism? Even for painters, much like scientists, it is just as important to pose the right questions. Leaving the exhibition with more questions than answers will put you in the “Berlin state of mind” of 200 years ago. Greiswald, Dresden, Rügen and Copenhagen as well as nearby mountains were influential locations and landscapes for Caspar David Friedrich. Berlin 1906 „Jahrhundert Ausstellung“ made him famous again, despite decades of being forgotten. Yet another question to ponder and wonder about. An additional merit of the exhibition is the section on painting techniques and the use of his sketches and drawings for the preparation of the oil paintings. The final riddle to be solved is the price differential between the German and English version of the catalog in the bookshop next to the usual merchandising props.

L’Albatros

Charles Baudelaire has immortalized the albatross in his poem entitled “L’Albatros”. For me it appears like a poem about the beauty of the sea and sea life. The marvelous creatures that populate the sea and its surroundings sometimes seem strange to us. The albatross with its large wings unable to move properly on earth is one of these special animals. They are threatened by human beings in their very survival up to extinction even. A dedicated website to “Les fleurs du mal” with multiple English translations of the same poem may give us the impression that all those who translated the poem wanted to feel this little moment of sublimation like a poet just forgetting for a little while the weight of our earthly existence. The gospel tells us a similar story of life up in the air. It must be so much better to be free and not to be bound to restrictions of gravity. As gods would prefer to stay away from earth just somewhere up in space. The albatross and the sea keep teaching us lessons beyond their physical appearance. (Image bird “dodo” now extinct, model in Berlin Natural History Museum 2024)

Stillness

Stillness is the key”. This is the title of the American bestselling book by Ryan Holiday (2019). The subtitle tells more about the contents. “An ancient strategy for modern life”. Ancient philosophers and authors have all praised stillness with multiple words. Today we consider people who lived at these times to have an easy time to escape from noisy environments. After all there were no motorways, railroads or other noisy forms of mass transport. However, stillness is more than the absence of noise. Free yourself from external disturbances and you might immediately discover how difficult it is to not have lots of things passing your mind. I enjoyed the shortcut phrase: “stillness is brilliance”. Make stillness the prime time of your day and you will see how it helps you to retreat from the entertainment overload of our everyday life. All religions believe and practice some form of silence as part of their rituals. They all attempt to capture attention and attraction through silent places or cathedrals only to fill them with impressive sounds as soon as many adherents have gathered. Christmas time is a rather sad example of the noisy entertainment function taking over for weeks rather than days. Singing loudly “silent night” is perhaps the most demeaned form.
Take your time to go through the table of contents of the book. Almost all chapters are kept to 6-8 pages before you will find your stillness again. Some examples of chapter titles will suffice to exemplify the road to take: “limit your inputs”, “slow down, think deeply”, “start journaling”, “cultivate silence”, “bathe in beauty”, “say no”, “take a walk”, “build a routine”, “beware escapism”. These are just a few and already too many of the imperatives presented in the book. One for every coming year will do for deep thinking as well.
(Image: what ever comes up when you close your eyes and ears now)

Only for Kids

We all have, hopefully, fond memories of children books. Sometimes authors are not so keen to tell that they are just writing books for children. This is often present in many biographies of authors of books for children. This is grossly unfair. Not only is the book market for children’s books one of the best- selling part of literature, but there are lots of interesting collaborations between authors and illustrators. Most books are expensive to produce, particularly if, additionally, translations are needed to reach more children and their parents. For small countries this might be a barrier. The Scandinavian countries have a tradition to translate and publish some selected children’s books in multiple Scandinavian languages and beyond. Therefore, it is no surprise to find a children’s book entitled “Kant” by Norwegian author Jon Fosse, illustrator Roj Friberg with the text translated into Swedish and published by the Danish Editor Carlsen, all in 1990.
The illustrations allow to understand the “bilderbok med text av Jon Fosse” using an enlightening imaginative visual language. From the cover already It is clear we deal with the universe and endless open space. There are black holes in it as well. Jon Fosse deals with “möjliga och omöjliga”, possibilities and impossibilities. Tackling such philosophical questions with children needs the best authors to address these issues. How to speak of the unspeakable, things we have hardly any words for remains a challenge. Relating to the world of dreams, appealing to children and their parents, does the trick. After all, you just need to close your eyes and you start to travel the universe and make lots of exciting encounters. The book has no page numbers, interesting. The image below is from page 25, just as an appetizer.
For more insights of how to deal with “nothingness” I refer to Friedrich C. Heller (2020) “Towards nothingness. Ideen der Reduktion in zeitgenössischen Bilderbüchern” (in Benner et al. editors 2020). Susan Sontag (2005) „die Ästhetik der Stille” (in Eugen Blume 2005, editor) will also help us along on the subject of stillness and minimalism. Maybe it is these essentials we should talk more about especially with our kids.
To continue the exploration of space and stillness just go to the webpage of the hubble telescope or the James Webb Space Telescope. The journey of your dreams will be hard to stop.