Monday, May 05, 2008

William James: philosopher and ghostbuster

I just finished reading The Master by Colm Toibin, which is a beautiful novelization of Henry James' life. Yeah, I'm behind in blogging my 50 book challenge. I'm impatient with writing the reviews of fiction, since they seem like silly book reports. However, I will write essays on social science literature. Hmmm.

Anyway, while I loved the novel, one thing that struck me was the figure of William James, of whom I knew, but whose work I had not read.

What say, you, philosophers among my readers? What's up with this whole "will to believe" thing? What about his philosophy of religious experience? How has William James endured in the philosophical canon? Finally, was he just a religious crackpot who went to medianistic seances and spoke to the dead?

I kept shaking my head that one of the greatest minds of the Victorian era, supposedly, was also such a mystic. I never did get that about the Victorian era, actually. That, and the obsession with bugs. More than the great political upheavals of the age and the weird sexual mores, those are the things I just did not get. I do love Victorian era literature though, and had I gone to grad school, it was either Victorian or Modernist. I would have probably chosen the latter though. But I love Dickens, Eliot, Hardy, James. And Victorian literature is super depressing, which makes it perfect for a weekend spent in bed.

Off to the doctor (or rather, phrenologist), who will no doubt examine the bumps on my head and diagnose me with neurasthenia, and prescribe me more bedrest until I go mad like Charlotte Perkins Gilman, clawing at the yellow wallpaper in my room. Good thing I have a fainting couch.


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