Tag Archives: philosophy

Book review: A Good Life by Mark Rowlands

A Good LifeThroughout the years, few oeuvres have enriched my intellectual life as much as the works of the Welsh philosopher Mark Rowlands. At some stage, we are all confronted with the question of what makes life worthwhile, how to make the time we have on this planet meaningful. Unfortunately, not enough of us ask how to live in such a way as not only to enjoy the journey, but simultaneously do as little harm as possible to our fellow travellers, whether they be other humans, animals or the environment. We all muddle on. Rowlands does not claim to have the answers, but his attempts at approaching possible conclusions are fascinating to engage with.

Some of Rowlands’s books are written for experts in his field of knowledge and are not as easily accessible as his bestsellers Running with the Pack: Thoughts from the Road on Meaning and Mortality or The Philosopher and the Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death and Happiness (still a personal favourite which belongs to that wonderful category of books I claim as life-changing). His latest, A Good Life, is also written for the general public and comes with an intriguing twist that will thrill all passionate readers, even more so if they happen to be writers as well.

Unlike Rowlands’s other books, which are clearly non-fiction and often include autobiographical elements, A Good Life is actually a novel. It is a philosophical inquiry into what constitutes the titular good life, but it comes in the form of dystopian speculative fiction. In 2054, while South Florida is quickly sinking into oblivion because of the rising sea levels, the fictitious character Nicolai finds a manuscript written by his late father and annotated by his mother. He decides to complete it with his own comments on the narrative his parents had left behind, never certain how much of their text is fiction and how much is fact. The book seems to be telling their life story by tackling such crucial issues as abortion, compassion and empathy, marriage, animal and environmental rights, euthanasia, and death. The discussion of these topics is at times unsettling, as it shakes up many widely held beliefs. At the same time, anything that Rowlands writes is always full of delightful humour and reassurance that not all is gloom and doom. There is hope and real goodness in the world.

It is not too late to recognise how we are all connected; not only to each other, but to the planet we call home. Compassion is one of our main tools. It is fuelled by the imagination. A Good Life as a whole makes a stunning case for the “colossal power” of literature: “We are all just words somewhere.” When you reach the final pages of the book, the different strands of the narrative intertwine to reveal something quite simple, and yet it feels as if a miracle had unfolded right in front of your reading mind. That is the beauty of a Mark Rowlands book.

Rowlands on lit

A Good Life: Philosophy from Cradle to Grave

by Mark Rowlands

Granta, 2015

Review first published in the Cape Times, 5 August 2016.

Women who roam The Blazing World, Part II

The Blazing World_HustvedtThere are some intriguing and inspiring real-life creative women mentioned in Siri Hustvedt’s latest novel, The Blazing World, which is about a fictional artist, Harriet Burden, who believes that she does not receive the recognition her art deserves because she is a well-off, middle-aged woman. To remedy the situation Burden employs three young, upcoming male artists to front her next three exhibitions. The project has some unexpected consequences. I reviewed the novel a few weeks ago.

Yesterday, I presented three of the amazing women who roam The Blazing World. Here are three more:

Simone WeilSimone Weil (1909 – 1943)
Guided by compassion, the French philosopher, activist, and Christian mystic Simone Weil wrote consistently throughout her life, but her work began to be truly appreciated only after her death. She was prepared to suffer hunger or fight in Spanish Civil War for her beliefs. Shortly before her death, she joined the French Resistance in London, but never returned to France because of her poor health. For an introduction to her writings see Simone Weil: An Anthology (1986, reprinted in 2005 as a Penguin Classic). Apparently, Albert Camus said of her that she was “the only great spirit of our times”. And she herself said: “Imagination and fiction make up more than three quarters of our real life.

Susanne LangerSusanne K. Langer (1895 – 1985)
An American philosopher who specialised in art and the mind. Best known for her Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite and Art (1942), she was a pioneer in her field as one of the first women to lead a successful academic career in philosophy. It is interesting to note that the book has ten customer reviews on Amazon.com which were written between 1998 and the present. All but one reviewer gave the title a five-star rating. The latest review (14 June 2014) by LOGICRAT is titled “EVERYONE on the internet needs to read this book” and includes the following quote: “This is a profoundly important book, and is extraordinarily relevant to human life today.”

Fraces YatesFrances A. Yates (1899 – 1981)
Yates was an English Renaissance scholar renowned for her studies Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (1964), The Art of Memory (1966), and The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (1972). The Art of Memory is considered as one of the most significant non-fiction books of the past century. Between 1964 and 1981, Yates regularly contributed to The New York Review of Books. Yates was also a Shakespeare scholar and author of Shakespeare’s Last Plays: A New Approach (1975). Her last review for the NYRB, “An Alchemical Lear”, of Charles Nicholl’s The Chemical Theatre (1981), appeared posthumously with this note from the Editors: “We mourn the death of this brilliant and original scholar, a longstanding contributor and friend.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Amazon, Brainy Quote, The New York Review of Books Homepage

Interested in receiving a copy of The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt? Please take part in my BOOK GIVEAWAY this month and stand a chance of having it (among others) sent to you. Good luck!

Magda Lipiejko (1976-2014)

Magda Lipiejko

Magda Lipiejko

The generations in my family overlap in a strange way. I have aunts and uncles who are roughly my age. One of them married a woman who was also only a year older than I. I never really got to know her, but there was this one summer over a decade ago when I visited them in Szczecin, Poland, and stayed for a while, nursing a broken heart.
Even back then, my aunt Magda was already a recognised photographer, make-up artist and stylist, owned a successful model agency, exhibited the most astonishing drawings which reflected her boundless imagination, and contributed wise and edgy articles to local publications. She had a Master’s degree in philosophy, read Tarot cards in her free time, and designed her flat to look like something out of a style magazine. Magda loved Henry Miller and wrote her blog under the pseudonym June Miller. She was a mother, too.
Mis w swetrze (Teddy in pullover) by Magda Lipiejko

Mis w swetrze (Teddy in pullover) by Magda Lipiejko

The first two drawings I ever bought from an artist were hers. They travelled with me to Cape Town and hang opposite my desk where they inspire me every day. After I met her, Magda and I corresponded for a while, but then we lost touch. The last time I wrote to her was for her birthday a few years ago. She did not reply. But there were no hard feelings. On the contrary: ever since that summer in Szczecin, I thought about her nearly every time I drew, wrote, saw a Tarot card, bought a new furniture piece, put up my hair, or took photographs. She and her work were a constant source of inspiration. Lace reminds me of her. And a certain type of drinking glasses. And old-fashioned scissors. Sepia photographs and old postcards. Alice in Wonderland. She shared a birthday with my Grandma and a dear cousin, so I always remembered her then as well. Full of admiration, I often looked at her websites and was happy to see that she was prospering, following her visions and making them come true. I dreamt of having my author’s photograph taken by her one day.
Through the family grapevine I found out that my uncle and Magda separated some years ago. At some stage someone in the family mentioned that she was not well. I might have written that last letter for her birthday because of those rumours. I don’t know. Nobody else mentioned anything about her for several years until this February.
Photo by Magda Lipiejko

Photo by Magda Lipiejko

The message came late at night. Magda died of cancer just after her 38th birthday. A cousin told me that until the very end she believed that she would recover. She was strong, beautiful, fiercely intelligent and multi-talented. In her short life, she achieved more than most others do given twice the time.
After the news of her death reached me, I visited her websites and her blog. I spent days looking at her photographs and reading her texts. In the same week, I received the first copies of Invisible Others. Holding them in my hands, I thought again of Magda (I know I would have even if she had still been alive). There I was, so proud and happy, so full of hope for the future and the many other novels I was going to write. And I thought that this is also how it must have been for Magda before her death. She must have also had these dreams. And she should have had an entire lifetime to fulfil them. It pains me deeply to know that she did not get that chance. But I am grateful for the words and images she has left behind. In them, she lives on, continues to inspire. It was her blog that made me overcome my reluctance to have one of my own again (unfortunate experiences in the past made me weary of the medium). And here I am, thanks to her.
I am glad that I told her how much her work means to me before it was too late, and I am infinitely grateful for everything she has given me.
I miss her.
Photo by Magda Lipiejko

Photo by Magda Lipiejko