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…)


Etienne Vermeersch : Provençaalse gesprekken

Etienne Vermeersch’s ‘Provençaalse gesprekken’ was een van de meest inspirerende boeken dat ik sinds een tijd had gelezen. Niet dat ik het altijd eens was met meneer Vermeersch, maar de delen waar ik zijn mening niet deelde waren minstens net zo inspirerend als die waarover ik het volledig met hem eens was. Hij heeft mij dus vaak aan het denken gezet… (more…)


This evening we saw Abderrahmane Sissako’s ‘Timbuktu’, and a truly miserable film it was too – but quite a good one. It was well made, and often well acted, but it had been a long time since a film had made me so angry. I left the cinema hating the human race, and as we walked back to the car I said to P. that the best thing that could happen would be for the entire human race – this cancer growing on the earth – to be completely wiped out. (more…)


It was clear from the start that this film was intended to be something much more interesting than a standard piece of straightforward storytelling, and to a great extent it succeeded. It had an original format, being composed of fourteen longish takes in which the camera either didn’t move at all or moved very little. As far as the camerawork and editing were concerned it could almost have been a Béla Tarr film, but the similarity ended there: here we had colour, lots of dialogue and plenty of action. The alignment of the fourteen scenes with the fourteen stations of the cross wasn’t always 100% successful, but neither was it in any way annoying and it did move the film along nicely.

Samuel Butler : Erewhon

After reading the back cover and introduction of Samuel Butler’s Erewhon I found myself wondering why I’d ever bought the book, but in the end it proved to be unexpectedly interesting. This is nothing if not an unusual work. It’s generally described as something between utopian fiction such as Thomas More’s Utopia or Aldous Huxley’s Island, and satirical works such as Gulliver’s Travels. I’d say it’s much nearer to the latter and also contains elements of dystopian literature. Unlike More or Huxley, Butler rarely presents any aspect of Erewhonian life as being unmitigatedly good, i.e. as something which he thinks the Europeans ought to adopt. Like Swift, he uses the book as a vehicle for his personal opinions on various subjects, and specifically to criticise what he doesn’t like about his own society, but he isn’t the least bit consistent in the manner in which he goes about this… (more…)

Julian Huxley : What Dare I Think?

A very interesting read. In this book Huxley expounds his personal philosophy, which goes by the name of ‘scientific humanism’, with particular emphasis in the first part of the book on what he sees as the necessity of eugenics, not only to combat the otherwise inevitable degeneration of the human race now that natural selection has ceased to play any serious role, but to actually improve the human race in future generations. In the latter part of the book he talks about the possibility of a new religion, one which wouldn’t conflict with but rather complement science and rationalism. His philosophy is perhaps best summed up in the following passage:

Scientific humanism is a protest against supernaturalism: the human spirit, now in its individual, now in its corporate aspects, is the source of all values and the highest reality we know. It is a protest against one-sidedness and fixity: the human spirit has many sides and cannot be ruled by any single rule; nor can it be restrained from making new discoveries in the adventure of its evolution. It insists that the same scientific procedure can be applied to human life as has been applied with such success to lifeless matter and to animals and plants – scientific survey, study and analysis, followed by increasing practical control. It insists on human values as the norms for our aims, but insists equally that they cannot adjust themselves in right perspective and emphasis except as part of the picture of the world provided by science. It realizes that human desires and aspirations are the motive power of life, but insists that no long-range or comprehensive aim of humanity can ever be realized except with the aid of the pedestrian and dispassionate methods, the systematic planning, the experimental testing which can be provided only by science. (p.173,6)


Aldous Huxley : Island

An amazing book, and one of the few which I wouldn’t hesitate to qualify as a book which everyone should read. I’m pretty certain I’d only read it once before, a long time ago, and I was very glad to have finally re-read it now. As a work of literature it’s not quite James Joyce, although for a book intended primarily to convey a set of ideas it’s way above the level of most science fiction. Just as in the books of Philip K. Dick it isn’t the story, the character development or the use of language which are important here, but the ideas, and in that respect this has to be one of the most interesting books ever written, mainly because Aldous Huxley was himself such an interesting character with so many worthwhile things to tell us. Just as with Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, there’s no point noting down interesting quotes while reading Island : there are just too many of them. (more…)

Jeremy Griffith / World Transformation Movement : Expanded Transcript of the Introductory Video

Let no one say that I didn’t give Jeremy Griffith and his theory of the Human Condition a fair chance. I don’t think I’ve ever looked quite so deeply into any single document or theory, or spent as much time looking up background information, checking claims and looking at alternative viewpoints as I did on the subject of the World Transformation Movement (originally known as the Foundation for Humanity’s Adulthood). As well as reading the entire Expanded Transcript of the Introductory Video, including the ‘testimonials’ by several members of the organisation, I also read an extensive ‘Critical investigation’ of the theory on the site of Australian commentator Peter Minogue, and made long detours into Wikipedia and The Skeptic’s Dictionary on such varied subjects as homeopathy, acupuncture and Atlantis.

I was totally fascinated from the moment I came across Griffith and his theory. He’s certainly an interesting character, and his theory basically claims to be the explanation of ‘the Human Condition’ and the answer to all the world’s problems. My initial reaction was one of scepticism – this was ‘obviously’ too good to be true – but my second was to realise that my first wasn’t entirely logical: what if someone really did come up with the answer to all the world’s problems, and everyone ignored it because it was ‘obviously’ too good to be true? If it really was too good to be true then I’d soon find out… Even though in the end I wasn’t at all convinced by this theory, looking into it was a very worthwhile experience and I wouldn’t hesitate to describe the Expanded Transcript as a ‘unique and fascinating document’. (more…)

Robert M. Pirsig : Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I’m pretty sure I was first introduced to this book in London by a certain Jem Peteln, a motorbike rider and more than a bit of a philosopher himself, in about 1975, i.e. not long after the book was first published. Very few details had remained in my head since then, but it had made enough of an impression for me to have intended re-reading it for the last 35 years, and it was certainly well worth rediscovering. This is a totally unique book, enjoyable to read, thought-provoking and full of wisdom. (more…)

The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler : The Art of Happiness

When I first read this book in 2002, having been lent it by a friend, my comments were as follows:

The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama had been well worth reading. I’m not sure if it’s a general Buddhist thing or particular to the Dalai Lama, but I was very much impressed at the fact that his ideas are based entirely on everyday experience and common sense. The starting point of his philosophy is that everyone (in fact, every sentient being) wants to be happy, and we need no purpose to life beyond that. No afterlife, God or incomprehensible ‘divine purpose’ is necessary to persuade people to be kind to each other, just the realisation that they want to be happy and that they’re no different to anyone else, and that the best way to be happy oneself is to try to make others happy. In a lot of ways his philosophy is very similar to humanism or Epicureanism; I wouldn’t mind reading some more of his books.

So far I haven’t got round to reading any more of them, but I did recently buy a copy of The Art of Happiness, and re-reading it has been a very worthwhile experience. I hadn’t yet started giving books points in 2002, but this time it got a 5 on my scale of 1 to 5, something which very few books get and which basically means that I regard it as a masterpiece, a book I will probably keep on re-reading occasionally for the rest of my life, and one which I think everyone should read. It’s simply written, very easy to read and aimed at a large audience, and is therefore perhaps slightly oversimplified, but that’s a small criticism considering what’s been achieved here. It deserves a more detailed commentary this time… (more…)