Ton Lemaire : Wandelenderwijs; sporen in het landschap

In dit schitterende boek Ton Lemaire, filosoof en antropoloog met een goede kennis van geschiedenis, dier- en plantenkunde, plus heel veel wandelervaring in heel diverse omgevingen, neemt ons mee op sommige van zijn meest memorablele wandelingen. En dat niet alleen in de zin van het beschrijven van de fysieke wandelingen (al doet hij dat ook, en vaak op een heel interessante en vermakelijke manier), maar ook, wat veel interessanter is, neemt hij ons mee op zijn ‘gedachtenwandelingen’ die ons soms heel ver weg leiden van de tijd en plaats waarin de auteur zich op dat moment bevindt: terug in de tijd en naar de gebieden van cultuur, geschiedenis en filosofie. Het resultaat is een verzameling intelligente essays die ons interessante en vaak belangrijke dingen te vertellen hebben.

Zijn schrijfstijl is zeker niet slecht, al zal hij er waarschijnlijk geen literaire prijzen mee winnen. Maar daar gaat het hier niet om. Dit boek is een plezier om te lezen, en gaf mij regelmatig zin om zelf te gaan wandelen in plaatsen (zoals Lapland en de Dordogne) waar ik anders nooit op het idee was gekomen om erheen te willen gaan! Niet dat ik het altijd 100% eens was met alles dat ik las. In het bijzonder in hoofdstuk X Open plekken vond ik meer dan genoeg om oneens mee te zijn, al kon ik over het algemeen Lemaire zijn standpunten heel goed waarderen.

Ondanks het feit dat Ton Lemaire als filosoof bekend staat, vond ik weinig of niets in dit boek dat ik ‘filosofie’ zou willen noemen. Als ik het hier over ‘filosofie’ heb, dan bedoel ik echte filosofie, in de traditie van Plato, Descartes en Bertrand Russell: het stellen van vragen en het proberen die vragen zo goed mogelijk te beantwoorden. Nee, dat is hier niet te vinden, en dat is geen enkel probleem! Toch lijkt Lemaire af en toe (bijvoorbeeld in hoofdstuk XIV Vogelen in Griekenland) te willen ‘filosoferen’, en diepzinnige, algemeen toepasbare filosofische inzichten te halen uit de feiten die hij presenteert, maar het lukt hem net niet en hij blijft steken op het niveau van vage overpeinzingen. Ook hier en daar (bijvoorbeeld in hoofdstuk IX Nederlandse wandelaars: Van Eeden, Thijsse, Leclercq) beperkt hij zich tot het stellen van een hele waslijst interessante vragen, terwijl hij met een beetje meer onderzoek misschien sommige van deze interessante vragen had kunnen beantwoorden.

Het is vooral om die redenen, denk ik, dat ik Wandelenderwijs ‘alleen maar’ een schitterend boek noem, en geen meesterwerk!


60 écrivains unis pour la liberté d’expression : Nous Sommes Charlie

I didn’t really have any great hopes for this thin volume containing 60 short texts by (mostly contemporary) French writers inspired by the Charlie Hebdo attack, but the five euros I paid for it in the Hyper-U went to a good cause (Charlie Hebdo) and I thought that with 60 writers there was at least a pretty good chance of finding something worth reading. Unfortunately I didn’t really find that much. Much of the book consisted of the usual meaningless platitudes which undoubtedly well-meaning people invariably come out with after such events, along with plenty of unrealistic advice from people who really have no idea what they’re talking about concerning what “we” all have to do to make sure something like this never happens again. Perhaps the words “60 écrivains unis pour la liberté d’expression” should have been enough to warn me that they’d all be saying the same thing. But no, I exaggerate, it wasn’t quite that bad… (more…)

Risttuules (In the Crosswind)

What an amazing film! Certainly the most interesting and original new film I’d seen in a very long time. Anyone who’s read a few of my comments on films will probably have come across frequent complaints that a film is ‘just straightforward story-telling’, and doesn’t make use of the great potential offered by the medium of film with all its unique possibilities. Well, that definitely can’t be said of Risttuules, which makes full use of the medium and does things which couldn’t have been done using any other. (more…)

Maarten H. Rijkens : I always get my sin

First a word of warning: if you don’t speak Dutch then there are various things in this text which you won’t understand – but there again, neither would you understand very much of the book I’m writing about!

I was recently given a present of a somewhat amusing little book going by the name of I always get my sin. It’s the sort of book you can get through in about an hour if you read slowly, although I expect most people just flick through it, reading bits here and there. I wasn’t intending to write anything about it, as I didn’t really think it was worth the trouble, but I somehow found myself writing anyway and eventually decided that I’d pretty well written a blog post so I might as well publish it. (more…)

How can the British live with their electoral system?

I woke up to some bad news on the morning of May 8th.: an unexpectedly decisive victory for the Conservatives, who proved all the polls wrong and ended up with an actual majority. I’m not British and I don’t live in the UK, but I did grow up there and still take an interest in British politics. Furthermore, the neoliberal wave which started with Ronald Reagan and was enthusiastically welcomed by his friend Margaret Thatcher, did not stop at the English Channel. What happens in the UK is very relevant for anyone living in Europe. For whatever reason, this news made me angry, so it was time for a serious rant… (more…)

Bertrand Russell : The Ethics of War

This essay, which was written exactly a century ago in 1915, with the First World War in full swing, asks the question whether war is ever justified, and if so under what circumstances. Knowing that Bertrand Russell’s pacifism had cost him six months in Brixton Prison in 1918, I didn’t expect any surprises here – but in that I was much mistaken. He makes it plain from the start that he does not consider the current war justified, but neither does he take “the extreme Tolstoyan view that war is under all circumstances a crime”. He is a utilitarian, and considers that war is justified if it is for the good of mankind as a whole, a viewpoint which can lead to some (for me) unexpected consequences… (more…)

Big Eyes

As usual when P. suggests going to see a film, I’d looked at a few reviews beforehand to decide whether I was interested. In this case what I’d read hadn’t made me super-enthusiastic, but Tim Burton’s latest film Big Eyes turned out (for once) to be better than expected. The film had received a fair bit of praise, especially for Amy Adams’ performance, but also a lot of criticism, most of which was centred on two aspects. The first of these was that it wasn’t sufficiently political, and that the sexism of 1950s America and the domestic abuse and denigration suffered by the main character didn’t receive enough attention and weren’t taken seriously. (more…)

The Imitation Game

I’d been looking forward to seeing The Imitation Game, mainly because its subject, Alan Turing, was such an interesting character. Brilliant and influential enough to be a household name but practically unknown until a few years ago outside of gay and computing circles, he was an eccentric who had an interesting life and came to a tragic end, and a war hero who was hounded and persecuted by the very society he’d worked so hard to save. Just like The Theory of Everything, which we’d seen a few days previously, this film told the amazing story of a very special person, and again with an outstanding performance, this time by Benedict Cumberbatch. Unfortunately, while I’d described that film as “far too ‘Hollywood’ for my liking”, this one went even further in that direction. Rather than any sort of attempt at a serious biography this was more of a ‘war film’ with a code-breaking theme and a bit of ‘spy film’ thrown in, an exciting adventure with lots of emotion and obviously designed more to entertain than to educate or inform. OK, the story of the breaking of the Enigma code is indeed an exciting one, but there were too many things here which were just too good to be true. I left the cinema wondering just how accurate the film was, and also surprised that Turing was seemingly such an extreme, asocial character who was so difficult to work with. (more…)

The Riot Club

My initial feeling about this film wasn’t positive, and in a certain way that didn’t surprise me. After all, if you go to see a film which you know is about horrible people, then you shouldn’t be too surprised if you end up seeing a horrible film. On the other hand, a film about Nazis, computer virus makers or even people who cough during classical concerts can be an excellent film if it’s well made, well acted and has something interesting to say about its subject. Unfortunately this film didn’t quite fall into that category… (more…)

The Theory of Everything

I wasn’t super-enthusiastic about this film beforehand, and probably wouldn’t have wanted to see it at all were it not for the fact that I’d read A Briefer History of Time a few years ago and have always had a great respect for Stephen Hawking. Not that having an interesting person as its subject matter necessarily makes for an interesting film, but this one had got good reviews so I decided to give it a try. (more…)