The Philosophy Of Allan Kurzberg: A Brief Summary, Part 2.

Allan Kurzberg was suspicious of philosophies that seemed to utilize ad hoc neologisms and undue complexity.  “To be sure, mathematics may become highly abstract and complex.  However, such complexity has a specific purpose:  to try to gain as precise an understanding  of a particular concept.  In philosophy, complexity often masks a lack of understanding of fundamental concepts”.  He would shake his head when he thought of the writing of F.S.C. Northrop, “This writer seems to list a string of adjectives that make his ideas well-nigh incomprehensible!  I defy anyone to tell me what the following statement means:  “The economic-political socio-historical physical-analytical process of Italy evolved in artistic and scientific conceptualizing, while maintaining its unique global outlook.”  Allan would remind me of Stuart Chase’s book, The Tyranny of Words.  “Robert!  If you ever get the chance, read Stuart’s book and think about some of his criticism!  Words are fine in their own way.  As a character in a Samuel Beckett novel stated, “Words are no shoddier than what they peddle.”  “However, in philosophy we should attempt to elucidate and explain rather than bewilder and confuse.  I might add Piet Hein’s Grook:  “To make a name in learning when other paths are barred, take something very simple and make it very hard!”

Allan liked to ponder on free will and determinism.  He would tell me that to prove there is no free will all one had to do was to take an event, say t7, and show that one had no choice but to act as one did.  If you could do that, then for all events after t7 and preceding it the same conclusion must be true, because you can’t say that you did not have free will for t7, but you did for t11, or t4.  Kurzberg himself did not believe in free will.  He thought that once you were placed in an environment, a host of influences arising from that environment would begin to serve as forces that you would sway you in a particular direction when making any decision.  He would say, ” The philosophical belief that at birth the mind is”tabula rasa” is not tenable, because we know by definition that humans come into the world with motivational forces that I call: E+, E-, OE+, OE-, and r.  That is, humans are irrational beings that are mostly capable of rational thought.  The belief of Rousseau in “the noble savage” is equally false.  And the overemphasis on the role of rational thought from The Age of Enlightenment is also not supportable.  It has taken two world wars and a host of smaller ones to show what motivational forces influence the human mind…”

In the next segment I will show what event what brought Allan and I together and how we shared some important experiences.

The Philosophy of Allan Kurzberg: A Brief Summary, Part 1.

Before summarizing some of Allan Kurzberg’s fundamental philosophical ideas it is well to note what Allan’s concept of philosophy was.  Kurzberg  used to take issue with philosophies, which he called those that “stopped the car”.  He meant philosophies that never got beyond a defined point A to a defined point B.  The problem with such philosophies, he asserted, was that they are based on undefinable terms.  Consequently, advocates of these philosophies have unlimited opportunities of interpreting these terms freely, since no precise definition impedes the pathways of their thoughts.  Certainly, to think about what constitutes the beautiful, for instance, does add to our perception and appreciation of the aesthetic.  However, aesthetics as a philosophy can never state that as a consequence of a conceived definition of beauty, the following must occur, because “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”.  In other words, aesthetics is a philosophy that “stops the car”.  Kurzberg was not opposed to the study of aesthetics or other “immovable” philosophies, but he maintained that the study of philosophy should include philosophies that provide movement from one defined point to another.  And that is what Allan tried to do through his four postulates and two corollaries in The Theory of Us.  He tried to reassert the universal power of mathematical reasoning into a theory of human interactions.

Personal Note:  When I was a student at USC, I was quite interested in the ideas of historian and literary scholar, Erich Kahler.(I still have a stack of typed notes from his work, Man the Measure, which covers man’s early history to 1943.  He didn’t know how WWII would turn out!).  Kahler had written an intriguing essay based on an Ohio State lecture, “The True, the Good, and the Beautiful”.  His ideas focused on some of the more important points of Greek philosophy.  Impressed with his concepts, I decided to give this pamphlet to a Taiwanese girl that I knew from the comparative literature program.  After a few days she returned it, and I asked her what she thought of it, expecting effusive praise.  However, she looked at me critically and said,”Robert!  This is not the only way of defining these concepts!  In China, we have entirely different ways of understanding these ideas, and, in my opinion, they are just as valid!  So I learned that my reliance on Greek thought had blinded me to philosophical schools in other parts of the world!

A Closer Look At A Chinese Dream, Part 3.

As stated previously, The Story of the Stone is a multi-level creation involving the supernatural and earthly existence in a mysterious intricate pattern.  Thus, it should not be surprising that dreams and mirrors have important roles to play in the novel, especially in the first volume, for dreams and mirrors are pathways from the mundane to the supernatural realm.

In the novel the Fairy Disenchantment is first mentioned by the Buddhist monk while he is conversing with the Taoist priest:  “…, Disenchantment has got together a group of amorous young souls,…, and intends to send them down into the world to take part in the great illusion of human life.”  The stone is then taken to earth with the other romantic souls.  This will explain Bao-yu’s special connection with his girl cousins.

Jia Bao-Yu has a dream involving the Fairy Disenchantment and future fates of his female cousins.  She tells him:  “My business is with the romantic passions, love-debts, girlish heartbreaks and male philanderings of your dust-stained human world.”  The fairy takes him to The Land of Illusion.  On the stone archway is the couplet:  “Truth becomes fiction when the fiction’s true;  Real becomes not-real when the unreal’s real”.  Bao-Yu becomes quite curious when he sees a series of registers in cupboards, describing the lives of girls from different provinces.  The register that attracts him the most concerns the lives of Twelve Beauties of Jinling, his girl cousins.  Each item in the register contains a picture, but not of a person, but rather an image to convey a mood.  The picture is followed by a verse that hints at the girl’s inevitable fate.  These verses serve as clues and foreshadowings for the astute reader that can link these verses to the appropriate characters as they appear in the novel.  Here is a sample:  “Blessed with a shrewd mind and noble heart, Yet born in time of twilight and decay, In spring through tears at river’s bank you gaze, Borne by the wind a thousand miles away.”  All the futures of the girls are sad, because passion and the beauty that inspires it can only lead to unhappiness as a tenet of Buddhist doctrine.

Bao-Yu wants to continue looking, but the fairy takes him away from the registers, not wanting to disclose supernatural secrets.  However, she does take him to another room where he is treated to wine and a performance of twelve songs with a prelude and epilogue performed by twelve dancers.  The songs are from the Fairy Disenchantment’s suite, “A Dream of Golden Days.”  The Fairy explains to Bao-Yu that “each song is an elegy on a single person or event”.  She gives Bao-Yu a manuscript of her libretto so he can understand the songs and dances better.

Note:  Golden Days is the title of volume 1 of the novel.(Golden Days is the name given by David Hawkes).

Each song represents one of the twelve beauties of Jinling and each has a title.  For instance the title of the First Song is The Mistaken Marriage, the Second Song, Hope Betrayed, and so on.  Translator David Hawkes explains which song goes with which character in a fascinating appendix to volume 1.  In essence, not only the fates of the girls are portrayed in the songs, but also the tragic fate of the Ning-Guo household itself.

Note:  The first two songs refer to the two major girls in Bao-Yu’s life:  Lin Dai-Yu and Xue Bao-Chai.  Cousin Lin is a sickly(her symptoms imitate tuberculosis), overly emotional(she is called “Frowner” by her friends),though highly intelligent and cultured girl.  She shares Bao-Yu’s penchant for excess sentiment, a tendency to be hurt easily, flying into passion and doing the unconventional(Bao-Yu has done the unconventional by refusing to study for ten years and become learned as his father.  Instead, he reads what he wants to and plays with girls.)  Xue Bao-Chai is a strict Confucian, living a life based on decorum, balance, reason, able to confront problems with equanimity and to find solutions for them.  She is also highly intelligent with an impeccable sense of the aesthetic and an encyclopedic knowledge of Chinese culture.

The prelude’s first line reveals one of the main purposes of the novel:  the complex, often bewildering nature of love:  “When first the world from chaos rose, Tell me, how did love begin?  The wind and moonlight first did love compose.”  I offer some excerpts from the first two songs as they hint at the fates of Bao-Yu’s two female interests: Xue Bao-Chai and Lin Dai-Yu:  From First Song:  “Let others all commend the marriage rites of gold and jade;…  How true I find That every good some imperfection holds!  Even a wife so courteous and so kind No comfort brings to an afflicted mind.”  From Second Song:  “One was a flower from paradise, One a pure jade without spot or stain…  How many tears from those poor eyes could flow, Which every season rained upon her woe?

The author also uses Bao-Yu’s meeting with the Fairy Disenchantment as his sexual awakening(he is about 12) and the start of puberty.  She leads him into a bedroom with a fairy girl sitting in the middle of it.  He notes in her a mixture of Bao-Chai’s “Rose-fresh beauty” and Dai-Yu’s “delicate charm”.  The fairy accuses Bao-Yu of being “lustful”, because to her any awareness of female beauty whether felt by the body or perceived by the mind is lust, which inevitably defiles the pure flower of womanhood.  To her, to experience love and and all feelings of love are forms of lust, and Bao-Yu is the most lustful of all!    Because his lust is in the mind, females will find him ” a kind and understanding friend”.  However, he will be scoffed at and thought of as strange and “unpractical and eccentric” by the world of men.  In spite of this, Fairy Disenchantment encourages his desire, by teaching him the arts of love.  Bao-Yu becomes aware of the shapes of females around him and causes him to masturbate.  The act of “losing himself” is told in highly symbolic, expressive poetic terms:  “…,  there was a rumbling like thunder from inside the abyss and a multitude of demons and water monsters reached up and clutched at Bao-Yu to drag him down into the depths.”

Bao-Yu’s maid, Aroma, is about 14, and far more sophisticated than he.  He shares his secret with her and later they have sex.  Aroma will be his guide and companion throughout the novel.  Her common sense and matter of fact nature will help Bao-Yu through tempestuous times.  She is the third girl in his life and the one he will live with during his adolescence.

And Now For The Answers(2)…

  1.  The Happiest Millionaire, “Valentine Candy or Boxing Gloves”, Cordelia Drexel Biddle. The line given seems a perfect description of adolescence and fits Cordelia as she ponders her future.  Is she going to box with boys or date them?  Up till now she’s been a Daddy’s girl, acquiescing to whatever he has proposed.  However, she’s beginning to wonder who she really is outside of her father’s wishes.  Lesley Ann Warren offers a wistful, yet highly emotional rendition of this difficult stage in her life in Walt Disney’s last film.
  2. Goldilocks, “Shall I Take my Hat and Go?”, George Randolph Brown.  The show was written by the Broadway critic Walter Kerr and his wife Jean.  The title confused the audience as did the mixed up ending.  Fortunately, the charming and tuneful score by miniaturist, Leroy Anderson, is a delight for the ears.  Russell Nype sings this song with an exuberant boyish innocence and a touch of pathos.  A superb rendition of an unduly neglected song.
  3. The Apple Tree, “Eve”, Adam.  By selecting three stories:  “The Diary of Adam and Eve” by Mark Twain, “The Lady or the Tiger” by Frank Stockton and “Passionella” by Jules Feiffer, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick wished to show the emotional and often turbulent aspect of male-female relationships. Not always a smooth blend of tales, nevertheless,  the show offers a complex and intriguing score, highlighted by top notch performances by Alan Alda, Barbara Harris and Larry Blyden.  Alan Alda has just the right amount of bewilderment and confusion when confronting the first member of the opposite sex.
  4. Funny Girl, “Henry Street”, chorus of neighbors from Henry Street.  The song is a celebration of Henry Street’s first Ziegfeld star to be:  Fanny Brice.  Errata:  the line should be corrected to:  “…young D.D-esses” and “loony” should be “looney.”
  5. Bloomer Girl, “Evelina”, Evelina Applegate and Jeff Calhoun.  A playful, teasing song that introduces the main characters.  In the original production, Celeste Holm sings the song for comic effect, while Barbara Cook sings for purity of tone in the 1956 TV production.  Even Steven.
  6. On the Twentieth Century, “Repent”, Letitia Primrose.  Imogene Coca sings this song by subjecting her comical voice to some unexpected twists.  Her hypocrisy shines through when she admits that she’s glad she didn’t repent before she did it all!
  7. My Fair Lady, “A Hymn to Him”, Henry Higgins.  Many performers have played the main character, but Rex Harrison remains our favorite misogynist.
  8. Li’l Abner, “Love in a Home”, Li’l Abner and Daisy Mae.  In Act 2, the main characters fantasize about the home they might have had before Abner was caught by Appassionata Von Climax and whisked off to Washington.   Peter Palmer and Edith Adams sing this romantic song.
  9. The Music Man, “The Sadder-but-Wiser Girl for me”, Harold Hill.  This song reflects Harold’s penchant for women “who have been around.”  He wants affairs not committed relationships.  As he sings, “I hope and I pray for Hester to win just one more “A”.”  Robert Preston reveals the criminal and the dreamer to perfection.
  10. Babes in Toyland, “I Can’t do the Sum”, Jane.  In the original 1903 production, Jane sings this song in a garden, while the Widow Piper’s children sit on a wall and tap on their slates as if working a problem.  Of course, these non sequiturs have no solution!  Kim Criswell gives a slightly frustrated version in 1978 on New World Records.  This star of Cincinnati University Singer’s and Theater Orchestra became an even bigger star on Broadway!

 

The Radical Philosophy Of Allan Kurzberg: Exchanging Thoughts With A Being From Another Planet, Part 2.

Allan:  You seemed quite excited and enervated during our last exchange.  I thought that emotions played a small role where you live.

Tybol:  No, you misunderstand me.  Although reason predominates, emotion plays a significant role in sustaining our well-being.  We gather our emotions under your terms:  E+ and E-, but to understand fully the scope of our emotions, one would need to construct quite an extensive list and even then that is not the same as actually feeling them.

Allan:  Still, in this area you seem quite restricted.  Humans have a vast range of emotions, including OE+ and OE-.

Tybol(laughing):  That is true, Allan.  You’ve got me there.  And because we lack OE+ and OE-, we could not write The Iliad or The Odyssey.  Nor could we compose Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony.  But, neither could we have the Inquisition or the Warsaw Ghetto.  However, it is this vast range of emotions that you humans possess that is of such interest to us.  In fact, I have been sent here to investigate these emotions and their possible consequences.  Just a note:  It may interest you to know that we are putting on a show called. “A Dose of Humanity”.

Allan:  Really?  I guess it’s quite an honor to have been selected for interplanetary study.  By the way, what will you include in the show?

Tybol:  It’s far from finished, but as I understand it, it will be presented like one of your American revues with singing, dancing and the like.  The show will begin with a type of overture, composed of parts of anthems from different countries.  I am collecting music that I think will be appropriate–not only for the overture, but for other sections as well.  For instance, we will use Sergei Prokofiev’s “Death of Tybalt(laughing), not Tybol, from his ballet Romeo and Juliet, to indicate the utter banality and emptiness of war.  We feel that this fugue with straining horns and the methodical albeit inexorable marching beats gives an accurate feel for the inanity of war.  To sense the grotesque element of destruction, we borrow another piece from Prokofiev, the “Dance of the Buffoon” from his ballet Chout.  But do not think that America is being left out in our plans for the show.  We plan to use several pieces by Charles Ives, including parts of “America the Beautiful” from the adagio movement of his Second Symphony.  We hope to show humanity in some of its most distinctive guises.

Allan:  But, aren’t you limiting the show’s audience to those that are able to attend and thus creating a restriction and limitation?

Tybol:  Not at all.  You see, we have developed a means of transmitting the program simultaneously to everyone on the planet.  Thus, everyone who wishes, –and they can indicate their desire to see the show by sending an appropriate signal to the performing location, can see the show.  Incidentally, the show is done in the open air in a remote corner of the planet and there will be no audience present.

Allan:  I see.  Not to change the subject, but do you like any of our contemporary songs?

Tybol:  Your world is so different from mine that I’d be making a false statement if I pretended to understand all the pain and struggle your generation is going through.  With lack of understanding, it is difficult to evaluate with any precision.  However, I like many of your generation’s songs, particularly those that emphasize a true kinship with earth.

Allan:  I know you’ve only been here a short while, but do you have a favorite song?

Tybol:  John Lennon’s song, Imagine, resonates within my being.  I like especially the lines:  “Imagine no possessions.  I wonder if you can.  No need for greed or hunger.  A brotherhood of man.  Imagine all the people sharing all the world…”  John Lennon pointed the arrow in the right direction for eventual world peace.  It is up to your people to act on his words and turn this aspect of imagination to achievement.

Allan:  I know.  We have a long way to go and the clock is ticking…

Musicals From The Past, Quiz#2

Musicals from the past, quiz#2.  See if you can identify the musical, the song’s title, and the character who sings the song from the 10 excerpts below.

  1.  “You’re so lost in the middle of in-between.”

2.  “Though a dream lies dying, I’m the only one who’s crying.’

3.  “She keeps filling up the hut with rubbish like flowers and plants.

And not only is it overcrowded, it’s loaded with ants.”

4.  “Messes and messes of young DDS’s; a loony who teaches voice.”

5.  “But what’s the use of smellin’ watermelon, clinging to another fella’s vine?

6.  “There’s a fiery pit for ladies and a fiery pit for gents.”

7.  “Their heads are full of cotton, hay and rags.”

8.  “And the clock seems to chime:  ‘Come again any time.

You’ll be welcome wherever you roam’.”

9.  “That kind of child ties knots no sailor ever knew.

10.  “If a steamship weighed ten thousand tons

And sailed five thousand miles

With a cargo large of overshoes

And carving knives and files,

If the mates were almost six feet high

And the bos’n near the same,

Would you subtract or multiply to find the captain’s name?”

 

Answers will be provided in a future post.

 

 

 

A Closer Look At A Chinese Dream, Part 2.

China’s most famous novel, The Story of the Stone, was not published until thirty years after the author’s death.  Then many different versions circulated with dubious claims to authenticity.  What we do know is that Cao Xueqin left an unfinished novel of eighty chapters and whoever completed the next forty chapters remains a mystery.  But what Cao wrote is unique in its multifaceted blending of the supernatural, the physical world of nature, the day-to-day world and especially the belief in a girl’s superiority both intellectually and morally.  Such a belief runs contrary to a Western thesis that women are inherently irrational, overly emotional humans that cannot be trusted to make wise and thoughtful decisions.  This thesis limited women severely in what they were allowed to do in Western civilization.  However, it is the complexity of feminine existence and its interaction with a male dominated world that the author proposes to examine.  He enters this world through Bao-Yu the main character of the novel, an androgynous figure, who likes to view girls in their every day activities, enjoys combing their hair, watches them put on their clothes.  He also has a personal maid of his own, Aroma, who attends to his needs.  As for his opinion of girls, Bao-Yu states, ” …the pure essence of humanity is all concentrated in the female of the species and that males are its mere dregs and scourings…”  He believes that he has no chance of achieving a true understanding of life if his girl cousins are unable to achieve it.  Thus, the author takes pains to point out the skills and inherent intelligence of the girls and women to juxtapose them with the awkwardness and foolishness of the male characters.  Bao-Yu, demonstrating both male and female elements, is the perfect bridge and guide into the male and female realms.

The Story of the Stone begins when the goddess Nu-wa sets about repairing the sky.  To do this, she makes use of thousands and thousands of large building blocks.  But, alas, one block of stone is left, being thought of as unworthy.  It does, however, possess the power of shrinking or growing, a power that is given to it by the goddess.  The stone, thoroughly ashamed, shrinks in size and is taken off by a Taoist monk, Mysterioso to spend its days in the mortal world accompanied by a Buddhist, Impervioso.  As it lives among mortals it acquires a history that is inscribed on the stone when it finishes it’s earthly existence to become a huge block of stone once more.  The stone is set up in the Incredible Crags of the Great Fable Mountains when another Taoist, Vanitas, sees it thousands of years later.  Upon reading the stone’s inscription, the monk learns of its history and of many details of the stone’s life.  He enters into conversation with the stone about another kind of worthiness:   whether the the stone’s complex and intricate life should be published.  The stone argues that his women and their actions and his verses could entertain and perhaps instruct other humans.  In the end, the monk concurs and copies the story from beginning to end to take it to a publisher.  And so the allegorical nature of the novel is set.  Void(Truth) contemplates Form (Illusion) and mixes with Passion to become Form that awakens to become Truth.