Hannibal Lecter and Philosophy
Routinely voted one of the greatest villains in film, television, and literary history, Hannibal Lecter is easily the most likeable cannibal in pop culture. He is erudite, brilliant, engaging, persuasive, personable, and funny, but those qualities don’t make him any less of a monster. Arguably, they make him more of one, since he can hide in plain sight where so many other monsters must lurk in the shadows.
Hannibal Lecter and Philosophy tries its damnedest to explore the myriad depths of Dr. Lecter through his words, his actions, his deceptions, his “rules,” and his peculiar appetites. And whether we’re talking the novels, the films, or Bryan Fuller’s vision on Hannibal in the eponymous TV show, it’s all fascinating stuff.
Through no fault of their own, the essays involving the literary Hannibal are the weakest, because the subsequent novels made some troublesome changes to the original vision of the character. The essays based on the TV show, appropriately enough, stand out, as the show itself was much richer and more complex than the novels or the movies. It seems that no matter how talented the essayist is, they’re only as good as their material.
Joseph Westfall, Editor
There is much that is mystifying in Daniel M. Harrison’s Butterflies: The Strange Metamorphosis of Fact and Fiction in Today’s World. Mystifying, but far from edifying. For instance, why is Butterflies classified under “Philosophy?” To characterize the book as such implies that thought-provoking analyses bolstered by the promise of plausibility might be contained within its pages. Not so. With its concatenation of logical fallacies, factual inaccuracies and cheap, drugstore mysticism doubling as ersatz vatic insight, Butterflies is an insult, rather than a contribution to that discipline. Moreover, it is difficult to decide which is more unsettling, that Butterflies has enjoyed commercial success or that this sham of a book was published—and not by a vanity press? Butterflies has been called “ambitious” and “challenging.” Those adjectives apply, but not on account of staggering insight, complexity, or originality—what makes the Harrison’s work challenging is its conceptual aimlessness.
The author often muddles recklessly through concepts and fields he does not fully grasp, from hard sciences to the humanities feigning a knowledge that his claims and blatant absence of legitimately cited research bely. In its prologue, Butterflies promises readers access to “hyper-reality,” defined as a “zone of hard-core truth.” This slighting treatment of a concept supposedly foundational for the narrative is symptomatic of the diseased superficiality that pervades Butterflies. Harrison’s definition of “hyper-reality,” elides the term’s place in intellectual history, overlooking how “hyper-reality” was a contested term of semiotics that surfaced most visibly in French Structuralism of the 1960s, a movement that would influence fields from musicology to history for decades to come. It still does. Harrison’s shameful oversimplification is either an intentional erasure, a sign of unpardonable ignorance, or tacit assumptions about the audience’s ignorance.
Butterflies has its virtues, however. Harrison brings 20th century geopolitics, globalization, and recent economic trends together with skill and in approachable, conversational prose. Also, the structure of Harrison’s work is creative. Each chapter oscillates, forming a braid between chapters on non-fiction and fiction. This interlacing of the two gradually becomes a chiasmus — fact comes to seem as improbable as fiction, while fiction adopts a degree of unrelenting brutality generally reserved for reality. Moreover, this structure harmonizes with a key theme in the book about the notional separation of those two categories.
Still, creative structure cannot forgive the lack of intellectual rigor, coupled with counterfeit certitude that pervades Harrison’s roughly non-fictional chapters. In one non-fiction passage, Harrison challenges the theory of relativity. Sadly, his obvious ignorance of basic physics makes his posturing as a Wunderkind- juggernaut ready to crush basic precepts of the field ridiculous. Elsewhere, Harrison alludes to historical moments and figures with varying degrees of inaccuracy, at one point presenting what is little more than a simplistic, unconvincing inversion of the Platonic Theory of Forms, as if it were a revelation. Is the author indulging in parody at his own expense or is Harrison merely delusional? The fiction chapters, which often glamorize a dissipated elite, high on ephemeral pleasures and hollow successes, are nearly unbearable. The reason for discomfort is not related to explicit sexual content, but because it is written so poorly (and exhibits a peculiar obsession with grounding description of girls [eerily] and women by their breasts, cup size, and all). Perhaps Harrison believes that what is provocative is, a posteriori, compelling. If the author had demonstrated the ability to use, rather than abuse, language (errors are not merely stylistic, but grammatical), these chapters might have been less agonizing to read. Though one might object that Harrison is transcending the conventions of the English language, that defense would only be valid if he had first demonstrated mastery of it. One press release advertised Butterflies as a “manifesto of the millennial age.” If so, Harrison’s work is little more than an inadvertent, likely unearned, condemnation of a generation and an epoch.
This reviewer fervently hopes that Harrison has not captured a new Zeitgeist–one where charlatans are sages and ‘wisdom’ is spouted by the ignorant or, worse, by those who prefer to pander to ignorance, rather than erase it. Perhaps he is merely constructing a vast cautionary tale. At least the Lost Generation, poised at the start of the 20th century, produced some writing that one hopes is as lasting as Butterflies is ephemeral.
The Fourth Dimension of Existence
We live in a three-dimensional world, and can fully understand three -dimensional occurrences. But this three- dimensional reality cannot explain our inability to answer fundamental questions. The Fourth Dimension of Existence proposes that an additional existential dimension is needed — another dimension, like the three material ones with which we are so familiar, which is an integral part of our being, which we already can sense and understand in a limited capacity, but which in us is not yet fully realized. This fourth dimension is Spirit, and by accepting that we have this particular fourth-dimensional component, we can begin to rationally understand many of these questions about our existence, if not yet their answers.
Dr. Nasr Saad begins with an overview of our understanding of the universe – basically, that we cannot comprehend it in terms of our normal reality. Although matter is finite and limited, the universe, as far as we can tell, is infinite and limitless. How can this be? He explores the historical and universal understanding that there is an immortal component to our beings, usually explained as the spirit or soul, but explains that the spirit and body are both equally present throughout and within our being. The three familiar dimensions of physical reality are no more or less omnipresent than this fourth, the spirit.
Understanding that we are not fully realized in the fourth dimension, although we can vaguely sense it, we recognize that communication from that reality must be by analogy or parable. Dr. Saad compares this to us, as three-dimensional beings, trying to interact with two-dimensional ones. (This analogy borrows heavily from Flatland, by Edwin A. Abbot, but explicates to a much greater degree than was explored in that already excellent book.) Different chapters focus more exclusively on death and immortality, religious revelations, and time and space. This last is especially fun; using the experimentally-supported conclusions of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, for example, Dr. Saad shows how a being moving at or beyond the speed of light would, to our comprehension, exist for our eternity and throughout our infinite space.
This is a fascinating book. The arguments are painstakingly, thoroughly, and solidly constructed. Although the reading can be dense and get a little confusing (as the subject is, by this book’s argument, not completely comprehensible), it is well worth the effort. The style is highly readable and conversational, and Dr. Saad is modest and respectful as he leads you to his conclusions. He does not claim to have the answers, but invites the reader to come with him in trying to understand life’s mysteries. Even if you don’t believe in an existence beyond the one we know, The Fourth Dimension of Existence provides a rational way to try to approach that belief. If you do already believe in that possibility, this book will wonderfully extend your understanding.
Rational Polemics: Tackling the Ethical Dilemmas of Life
The format herein is a series of essays or musings. No attempt is expended to make weighty universal pronouncements, and, in fact, no attempt is made to use “proper” language, though the vocabulary is adult and educated. Editing is of a high level, and continuity within subjects is good. Those subjects are wide ranging and not picked for political correctness. In fact, the one word I would use to describe this ramble is “refreshing.”
Most of the ideas offered, and the explorations developed, will have some familiarity to long-term libertarians and even to many people who have simply engaged in brainstorming as sophomores. That does not diminish the book’s utility. As a direct result of Devens’ fearless approaches to intimidating topics, we are presented with an invaluable stretching tool for young minds, with a stimulus to resume thinking widely for older readers.
The writer quotes some weighty sources, but frequently just skips across a subject with the alacrity of an immortal negotiating a mine field. The fact that esoterica, like the morality of cannibalism under survival necessity and the courtesies of telephone courtship, are touched upon is an indicator of the freewheeling nature of this compendium.
I don’t want to trivialize Rational Polemics in the least. Devens has grounded his musings firmly in the rationality of freedom and free inquiry. He espouses self-ownership, the necessity of self-determination, and the sanctity of individuality.
“The Universal Farce” is his first chapter, with an exploration of the fallacies, con jobs, and irrationalities of religion, wherein the first mover/creator formula is debunked without any shyness. Devens credits the genesis of his book to long-standing disillusionment with religion. He does an admirable job gutting the fraud. In other segments, common courtesy, drug legalization, treatment of criminals, and the death penalty are addressed. Sometimes delving takes a good chapter, as on racism; elsewhere, as in drug legalization, a page and a half suffice.
If you have any interest in freedom of the mind, in personal freedoms, in thinking outside the box, this would be a good candidate for your bookshelf or for your high school or college student’s next gift.
True Stories of the Philosophical Theater
In his first book, he calls a “nonfiction novel,” Yerucham narrates an engrossing intellectual and spiritual autobiographical novel. Written in a sparse journalistic style, True Stories is like Kerouac’s On the Road narrative, with the endless, repetitive, cyclical journeys, the episodes fragmentary and unresolved, but more learned and spiritual, like the structure of a Tibetan Mandala. Yerucham is a peripatetic soul, the wandering Jew, even ending up in Israel for a time. He studies western philosophy, gives it up; studies poetry with Ginsberg in New York, but decides to hit the road; visits and lives in a myriad of the spiritual places around the world for many years, a kind of crazed Lonely Planet-style traveler one encounters in India’s bottom budget lodges. With his depressions, breakdowns, horrible sicknesses, along the way, it’s only movement that alleviates these chronic physical and mental ailments. He’s autodidactic, much like the fictional Larry Durrell in Maugham’s Razor’s Edge, studying all cultures and taking whatever they might offer. In the end, like Larry (who finally drives a taxi), Yerucham, with new wife and daughter in tow, returns to the United States looking for a job.
Along the way, exploring the “philosophical theater,” we visit many places, meet many people, both locals and travelers, and perhaps discover, as the author hopes, “Deeper truths are often found in fiction than in fact, but when truths found in fiction are combined with strict veracity of narrative, the returns are doubled.”
As a mystic, Yerucham once renounced writing, but in a “return to western philosophy,” well earned, but now with “purer mind with holier motivations,” we have this book. This is no microwave package of Eat, Pray, Love, but more a gourmand‘s search, if not for enlightenment, at least, for peace of mind, for simplicity in the midst of complexity inside and outside. Recommended for readers who care about the people and the quests mentioned in this review.
The Ultimate Walking Dead and Philosophy
Moral dilemmas are rich fodder for philosophical discussion, and boy, if you’re looking for moral dilemmas, The Walking Dead is the place to go. Whether we’re talking about the comic book series or the much-lauded television adaptation, hard choices abound and the plotlines are rife with moments worthy of debate and examination.
The Ultimate Walking Dead and Philosophy puts the adventures of Rick, Michonne, The Governor, Negan, Carol, Daryl, and more under the microscope, analyzing them not only through the lens of all the greatest minds in philosophy, but through the modern window of morality. Whether we’re discussing Rick imprisoning Negan in the comics or Carol’s transformation in the show, Daryl’s time with the Claimers or the Governor’s dubious sense of right and wrong, this is a smorgasbord of deep thinking.
Arguably the most interesting topic was the subject of Lizzie, the disturbed young lady with a walker fascination and a devastating impact on Carol, Tyreese, and her own sister. You could write a book alone on the topics discussed there, and this is only a drop in the bucket of The Walking Dead‘s morally complex universe.