Month: August 2008

17. “Unstitching the carefully tailored suit” – among the dead philosophers

Simon Critchley
“The book is written against the view that a philosopher’s biography is of no importance and that philosophy can be reduced to a series of systems of thought. It’s really an attempt to rewrite the history of philosophy as a history of philosophers. That was the way that philosophy was taught until the eighteenth century. So in a way it’s a revival of a rather ancient idea of philosophy being taught through exemplary biography or the idea of philosophy as a way of life.”

In this week’s podcast I talk to Simon Critchley about his recently published Book of Dead Philosophers. The book might at first seem like one of those forgettable book of quirky lists and miscellaneous bizzareries, but in fact it’s much more than that. Critchley Melbourne coverAs Jonathan Derbyshire put it in his Guardian review:
Book of Dead Philosophers UK cover
“These descriptions aren’t just intended to be diverting, however (though they are certainly that); Critchley says that they are also meant to challenge a conception of philosophy which holds that it is a form of abstract, conceptual inquiry that makes no difference to the lives of those who practise it.
For him, philosophy is not so much about learning how to die, as about learning how to live with what he calls our ‘creatureliness’. We are finite, ‘limited’ creatures, and philosophy is, or ought to be, the business of helping human beings to live with the ‘difficulty’ of facing up to that.”

I met up with Simon in the rather noisy cafe of the ICA in London just before he was due to give a talk about the book, and started off by hitting him with a quote from Heidegger. As you do.

Oh, and the title of this post is a quote from Simon’s book; “unstitching the carefully tailored suit of the self” is his description of the effect that grief has on us.

First Four for Faber

Over the last few months I’ve been producing a new podcast for Faber and Faber, which you can find on their recently relaunched website here. In the first four podcasts, which are now available on iTunes, I talk to – among others – Hanif Kureishi, Peter Carey, Sebastian Barry (pictured left) and Junot Díaz.

The podcast will be a regular monthly feature of the Faber site and there will be “specials” every so often too. I’m hoping to interview Paul Auster about his latest novel, Man in the Dark, in the autumn, for example.

Troubled Rainbow Nation

Bright BarkThe third podcast I’ve recorded for Le Monde diplomatique has just gone up on their site. In it I interview Johann Rossouw, editor of the publication’s Afrikaans edition, about the recent violent events in his country. He talks about what sparked those events, but looks behind the proximate causes to the deeper roots in the way in which South Africa emerged from its colonial and apartheid-governed past. Listen to the podcast by clicking here. The abstract-looking image that accompanies this post was taken in Durban’s Botanical Gardens by Robbie Ribeiro.

The White Tiger’s Cautionary Tale

Aravind Adiga cover“I see this in a sense as a cautionary tale. What my narrator is is a white tiger – he’s unusual for his time. Very few servants in India actually kill their masters and take their money…”

Aravind Adiga’s debut novel was recently selected for the Booker long-list, so I thought I’d make available this interview which I did with him earlier this year in London. Click here to listen to the interview.
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16. “Our sweaty ape hands on the thermostat”

Mark Lynas“The chemistry of this is more than a century old… The basic physics of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases has been known for a very long time. In fact some back-of-the-envelope calculations were made then which more or less stand the test of time a century later.”

A few weeks back I met Mark Lynas in Oxford to talk about his book, Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, shortly before the book won this year’s Royal Society Science Book Prize. The book looks degree by degree at the consequences for the Earth, its biodiversity and its inhabitants, as average global temperatures continue to rise throughout this century. The book is alarming without being alarmist, sobering without being defeatist. As the Royal Society recognized, the book represents a magnificent achievement on Mark’s part, who sifted through a huge amount of scientific data in order to construct such readable and readily comprehensible scenarios.

Six Degrees coverSix Degrees coverAverage rises in global temperature of up to two degrees have serious consequences; above that, the consequences range from the dramatic to the catastrophic. The latest projections from the Met Office Hadley Centre, which Mark wrote about in the Guardian the week we met, suggest that if we make a step change soon in our carbon emissions, we may limit warming to under 3°C. If we continue on our current path – the scenario called “agree and ignore” – the level of warming is likely to be 4.85°C by 2100.

As Six Degrees makes clear, a world nearly 5°C warmer than our present one would begin to resemble an entirely new planet: no ice sheets, massive loss of biodiversity, flooded cities, our “prosperous interlude” nourished on fossil fuel a “lucky aberration”.

Publishers talk all too glibly of books being “necessary” when all they really mean is worthy of attention. In my view, Mark’s is a rare example of a truly necessary book and I do enjoin you to read it. In the book he talks of the “awesome responsibility” of “our sweaty ape hands resting on the climatic thermostat”. Our time to turn that thermostat down is rapidly running out…

The price of gas