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Friend To Mankind: Marsilio Ficino * Michael Shepherd (editor) (isbn 0856831840)

Marsilio Ficino – Een Universeel Mens * Michael Shepherd (editor) (isbn 9020285610)

The Dutch version of this book was released only a few months ago, but the original edition is already a “special order” at Amazon. A wonderfull book with articles about the philosopher who was one of the major originators of the Renaissance. Ficino was the son of the doctor of Cosimo dei Medici and after showing interest in philosophy he became Dei Medici’s friend. Translating works of Plato, Plotinus and Hermes Trismegistos besides writing tons of material of his own, Ficino was a rapidly rising star in the intellectual circles of Florence in Italy. He became leader of Dei Medici’s “Platonic Academy” also after Dei Medici’s death. Ficino was also good friends with the follow-up mainman of the Dei Medici bank Lorenzo who supported the academy.

Anyway, articles by renowned writers giving a very good and allright insight in the person Marsilio Ficino, his influences and influece in his time and after and also an idea of the man’s writings. Mostly used are his letters which were published in 12 books, introduced by himself. Many letters are available in different languages, most are not. Ficino wrote a lot of material for which goes the same. His mostly republished translation is that of the Corpus Hermeticum (or Pimander as he called it himself) of which he made the first translation.

A great book if you want to learn about the very interesting period of the early Italian Renaissance and of course the person Marsilio Ficino.

Van Anima Tot Zeus * Maarten Timmer (isbn 9056373528 * 2001)

A book only for the Dutch-speaking among you, sorry.

“Van Anima Tot Zeus” is an encyclopedia for anyone interested in the subjects that you can find in these pages and more. 885 Pages, almost countless words and symbols varying from alchemy to psychology, psychiatry, philosophy, mythology, etc., etc. Even short biographies of persons, photos, images, explanations, cross-referances, etc., etc. Paging through the book learned me that is isn’t entirely all embracing, (but I suppose that would take several of such books), but there is a lot to be found here. Sometimes the writer and contributors took several pages to explain something, sometimes a few lines.

However expensive (almost E 66), this is actually a must-buy for anyone interested in the named subjects. <3/12/02>

On Being A Pagan * Alain de Benoist (isbn 0972029222 (1981, translation 2005))

“Comment Peut-On ÍŠtre Paͯen” (1981) is the alledged masterpiece by the French philosopher, politician and pagan Alain de Benoist (1943). The title means literary “how one can be pagan”, so the English translation doesn’t have such a strange title: On Being A Pagan. I read a Dutch translation though of which the title is Heiden Zijn Vandaag De Dag which means “being a pagan today”. The book is pretty old (1981), but it remains De Benoist’s most famous work and an English translation has just been made available by the publisher Ultra in 2005. The Dutch translation that I just bought is of 1986 (leftover copies of the 1997 second printing are still available). This Dutch translation is by the publisher Delta vzw from Belgium and comes in a series with the same title as the magazine of this publisher: TeKoS, being an abbreviation of “teksten, kommentaren, studies” or “texts, commentaries, studies”. So, with the writer and his publishers we have landed in the political corner that is called ‘new right’. This book has little to do with politics though.

I bought it because I was just curious what this famous Frenchman has to say, but mostly because I hoped that the title of the book would cover the content. Well, it does not! The book is not really about ‘being a pagan today’. Actually it is a tiring writing mostly against “Judeo-Christian” culture. De Benoist mixes philosophy (mostly Nietzsche, Heidegger and Evola) with theology practised on Christianity and Judaism (De Benoist often quotes Josy Eisenberg and Armand Abecassis), antropology and a little bit of history. The book is mostly filled with minute investigations of Christian and Jewish doctrines and the writers point are underbuilt with philosophy.

Only here and there the writer refers to the pagan faith, by which he means both Greek paganism and Northern-European paganism. Towards the end there is more attention for this. Actually the writer says what is not good about Judaism and Christianity instead of saying what would be a ‘pagan alternative’.

Given the ‘political background’ De Benoist is very mild towards Jews and Muslims. Judaism, Christianity and Islam as religion do not get much credit though, but the writer shows to be very well informed about them both.

I am pretty disappointed by this book because the title doesn’t really cover the content and the title suggests a more interesting book than it actually is. Also I am not too fond of ‘anti-books’ and this book is a bit too much of that. Some parts are interesting, but the larger part of this book I read only superficially.
Read quotes of De Benoist here.

Discourse On The Method Of Rightly Conducting The Reason, And Seeking Truth In The Sciences (Rene Descartes) (fbn press)

The chapbooks have different series. There are folk stories & fairytales (series “F”), literature of the 19th century (series “19-L”) and this book by the French early scientist and philosopher Descartes (1596-1650) is part of the 17th century science & technology series. This is the discourse in which Descartes came to his famous saying “cogito ergo sum”, “I think, therefor I am”. I am not too well read in philosophy, but I of course knew about Descartes and his famous line. It has always been quite clear to me what it meant, but reading this discourse, I truely can’t follow the man himself. Descartes starts with saying what he studied and learned. Then he goes on saying that he believes that everything you can reason (including ancient texts) about can’t be the thruth, but because one can reason, one excists. I miss something there. The second half of the book is filled with the notion that investigating should be done with the senses and then I’m totally lost. Not because I can’t follow, but the lenghty blabla that soon makes me drop out off by lack of interest. Nope, this very philosophical writing is not my thing. But for those who like this kind of literature better, here is an English translation of Descartes’ most famous text available for only $ 5,- in a nicely printed A5 booklet.

Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil * Rüdiger Safranski (isbn 0674387104)

The original German is called Heidegger und sein Zeit (‘Heidegger and his time’), which is a reference to his main-work Sein und Zeit (‘being and time’), in English this little joke cannot be made, but we can in Dutch.

However Heidegger (1889-1976) was the most recent of the three philosophers that Safranski wrote biographies off, Safraski wrote his second philosophical biography about him. I read it as third, to keep the chronology. Heidegger is a rather controversial philosopher, because for some time he sympatised with the national-socialist revolution in Germany. For this reason Heidegger is still ‘not done’ to some, but philosophers and universities have little problems with the man and regard him as one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century. This is mostly due to his original ideas that made him populair in Germany and abroad even when living. Also he had a descent career as professor until about WWII when he got problems with the regime and later because he used to sympathise with some of its ideas. Safranski managed to write a neutral biography, but still Heidegger does not appear very sympathetic. He used people and situations for his own benefit.

Philosophically we get to know Heidegger as being in the line of the “existentialists” Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and for example in his own time Jaspers and Sartre. Existentialists make the “I” a central point and everything around it. Heideggers favourite subjects were “being”, thinking and metaphysics.
A nice book again and really between the very biographical Schopenhauer book and the philosophical Nietzsche book and therewith the second most interesting of Safranski’s philosophical biographies.

Nietzsche, a philosophical biography * Rüdiger Safranski (isbn 0393323803)

This is the third philosophers-biography from the hand of Safranski, but because Nietzsche lived between Schophauer and Heidegger, I read this book as the second of these three. The subtitle says: “a biography of his thinking” and this is absolutely what this book is. In contradiction to the Schopenhauer biography, Safranski doesn’t give a whole lot of details of the life of Nietzsche, but people who are interested will be delighted with the chronology of Nietzsches life at the end. Reading the book you will get to learn a young pessimistic man who starts to write at an early age. He studies philology (investigator of languages and cultures) and even becomes professor. Rebelling against his colleagues -especially after the discovery of the writings of Schopenhauer-, Nietzsche developes towards being philosopher. Writing different books at the same time, he especially developes his ideas of ‘power through will’. His famous idea of the death of god is only treated shortly when Safrasnki speaks about the “übermensch” (‘overman’). Reading further you will learn about Nietzsches ideas about everyday things and more ‘elevated matters’. The German philosopher is treated more or less chronological, but information comes from all kinds of books, letters, etc. all through eachother and lacking an index (!) this book isn’t much of a reference work.

Safranski writes all through to Nietzsches nervous-breakdown after which follows the long and final chapter about what happened after Nietzsches breakdown and his influence in later times. His sister brought out a strange and negative image of her brother and different people misused the philophy of Nietzsche.

“Nietzsche” is a more interesting book than the Schopenhauer biography. You will learn about what Nietzsche had to say more than about details of his life. Still, lacking an index and a structure of chapters by subject, this book is not one to have on your bookshell to use as Nietzsche reference book. Still Safranski writes understandable and his displays a great understanding of the man, his philosophy and philosophy in general. He doesn’t need about six years per book for nothing!

The Orator’s Education * Quintilian (isbn 0674995929)

I got the very luxery Dutch translation of this book which (in contradiction to the English translation) comes in one book of 750+ pages. Quintilian, a writer that lived around the year 40. This fact makes this text older than the New Testament! Still, reading the book it could have been written rather 20 than 2000 years ago. Quintilian wrote the book in only a few months, but Piet Gerbandy (1958) needed 12 years to make the Dutch translation! And a very good translation too, with a glossarium and extensive index.

The book is a course in rethorics, it teaches you how to become a good spokeman. This is mainly focused on the juridical-court (and a little politics), but can also be applied to other specialities. In the beginning you will learn how to raise your child to become a good rethor, how to choose the schools, demands for teachers, etc. Then higher forms of education and after this more specific information about language (very technical), language, mimics, humour, the art of memory and much, much more.

Literally and figuratively a classic.

Schopenhauer and the wild years of philosophy – Rüdiger Safranski (isbn 0674792769)

This is the first of three biographies of philosophers by the German writer Safranski. I got all three (this one, Nietzsche en Heidegger) to review, the other two I have yet to read. I hoped to learn more about the philosophy of the pessimistic German philosopher Schopenhauer (1799-1860), but this thick book (+500 pages) is mostly filled with biographical information. Schopenhauers early years, the relation with his mother, sister, the philosopher Goethe (a friend of his mothers), love-affairs; how Arthur (and Safranski usually refers to him) was an original, but underrated (yet over-self-confident) philosopher who only in the later years of his life got the success that he longed for. Before he really got used to that, Arthur died at a respectable age. The main themes of Schopenhauers philosophy I got from an encyclopedia of philosophers, but knowing them, they are can also be found in the book of Safranski. They are the (superhuman) “will” which is the cause of all and the rest is “imagination”, as in the Eastern doctrine of “maya” (“illusion”).

All in all a nice read, but only if you are mainly interested in biographical information and not for people (like myself) who want to learn about the philosophy of Schopenhauer. Safranski does display himself a wellread philosopher who totally understands Schopenhauer, because in a few chapters he not only speaks about Schopenhauers contemporaries and influences in depth, but he also explains parts of their and Arthurs philosophy in understandable terms. Still, you can’t use this book for reference, since the index has only names… A biography, not much more, but certainly nothing less.

The Temptation To Exist * Emil M. Cioran (isbn 0226106756)

Cioran (1911-1995) I only knew from a long anounced compilation project that is dedicated to this man and so far still not released. When I got the change to get a Dutch translation of him for review, I didn’t wait to take it, so now I have one of the five works of this Romenian philosopher that is available in my native language. This little book is released by the ‘historic publisher’ (“Historische Uitgeverij”) and the only Cioran text from this company. The other four are released by ‘laborer press’ (“Arbeiderspers”) from Belgium. The present book, La Tentation d’Exister consists of 11 essays that were released together in 1956 and in Dutch in 2001.

Cioran suffered from chronic depressions that were sometimes eased by mystic peaks. However Cioran never became fond of philosophy, he remained more of a philosopher than a mystic himself. Also his depressions have the upper hand in this bundle, all texts are totally splenetic. This depressed view on life also had its stamp on Ciorans view of the world. The world -but especially Europe- is falling apart in its misery. A small ‘point of light’ was the upcoming of fascism, of course with Hitler, but in Ciorans case especially in the form of the Iron Guard of Corneliu Zelea Codreanu (1899-1938). For a time, Cioran felt attracted to Codreanus legion. For this reason Cioran is one of these philosophers that are ‘not done’. But what do you find of this temporary interest of fascism in the reviewed book? Not much, but Cioran in general is difficult and it is hard to find out what he really thought. A good (or rather a very bad?) example in this respect is the article “a people of self contained” which is about the Jews. Cioran displays a love-hate relationship and I don’t know what his sentiments were when he wrote the article. The same goes for other things Cioran describes, but the overall tone is a severe pessimism. But because everything is written in a very bombastic style I frequently had to laugh of what Cioran has to say. I don’t know if this goes for everyone, the opening article -for example- is a punch in the face of the eclectic (New Age) thinker and other views could cause people to feel attacked as well.

All in all I enjoyed reading this little book and Cioran is (at least in my eyes) unique with his strange mixture of philosophy and mysticism and his descriptions of philosophy, history, cultures, literature and poetry. A well-read pessimist!

De wereld Als Kunstwerk * Marsilio Ficino (isbn: 9025954987 * 2005)

It has been a while since I studied Ficino. This was part of my series of articles about the Renaissance. At the time I mostly focussed on the esoteric side of the man. Later I reviewed Dutch translations of letters of Ficino and now just released is a Dutch translation of Ficino’s introduction to the Platonic theology. Ficino was writing a massive text of several books about the Platonic theology and he was so smart to make a short text for less specialised readers. This little book is introduced and translated by Rijk Schipper and comes in a very nice booklet. Schipper gives a nice introduction to Renaissance humanism, tells a bit about the life and thought of Ficino and then gives the contence of this book in a few alineas. After this the translation follows. The text is well readable, but not always fully clear to me. Since they are explanations of Plato in a (neo-)Platonic way, the book is very philosophical. Interesting, but not always my kind of literature. The introduction is very helpfull for sure. Ficino speaks about the soul, God, etc. and proves himself a child of him time. Yet, we owe it to Ficino (and almost to Ficino alone) that Plato came back in to the attention of man. More information about the man in my articles.