Magical writing

Monday 3 January, 2021 – by John Naughton – Memex 1.1

I came across this article by Zadie Smith via John Naughton.

Zadie Smith on Joan Didion

Magical thinking is a disorder of thought. It sees causality where there is none, confuses private emotion with general reality, imposes—as Didion has it, perfectly, in “The White Album”—“a narrative line upon disparate images.” But the extremity of mourning aside, it was not a condition from which she generally suffered. Didion’s watchword was watchword. She was exceptionally alert to the words or phrases we use to express our core aims or beliefs. Alert in the sense of suspicious. Radically upgrading Hemingway’s “bullshit detector,” she probed the public discourse, the better to determine how much truth was in it and how much delusion. She did that with her own sentences, too. [emphasis added]

 Querdenker and epistemology

Escaping Corona: A Community of German Anti-Vaxxers on the Black Sea Coast – DER SPIEGEL

I wasn’t familiar with this word although even with my smattering of German (as in, I do violence to the language) I could hazard a guess.

The source was an article in Der Spiegel about Germans who have moved to Bulgaria to get away from Covid restrictions.

The apartment complex in the town of Aheloy is considered a stronghold of German-speaking corona truthers and so­-called “Querdenker,” that hodgepodge of anti-government conspiracy theorists who have waged an ongoing campaign against all measures aimed at combatting the pandemic.

If you check out in the Collins online dictionary you find:

English Translation of “Querdenker” | Collins German-English Dictionary



  1. open-minded thinker
  2. (Coronavirus) pandemic sceptic

Sounds like a great opener for an essay on epistemology 101.

Before it comes to that, we have another question: Does the unofficial Château boss describe himself as a Querdenker? The term, which, pre-COVID, used to be reserved in Germany for those who think outside the box, “has lost its original meaning,” Gelbrecht says. “True Querdenker were people like Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking.” He primarily views himself as a savior for the desperate. “Many Germans are growing increasingly concerned that they will be excluded if they don’t get vaccinated, that they will no longer be able to take part in society and that they will be forced to have their children vaccinated.”

I give you the tea bag and Tractatus!

A century ago Ludwig Wittgenstein changed philosophy for ever | The Economist

Of all the innovations that sprang from the trenches of the first world war—the zip, the tea bag, the tank—the “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus” must be among the most elegant and humane.

That the book ever made it into print was miraculous. Before the war, as a student at Cambridge, Wittgenstein’s talent was clear to his contemporaries, who begged him to put his many thoughts into writing. He refused, fearing that an imperfect work of philosophy was worthless. His mentor, Bertrand Russell, made a habit of taking notes when the two spoke, lest his protégé’s genius be lost to memory. Wittgenstein himself had other preoccupations, principally suicide.

The philosopher Stuart Hampshire served in British military intelligence during the Second World War. When we were colleagues at Princeton he told me about the following incident, which must have taken place shortly a)er the Normandy landings. The French Resistance had captured an important collaborator, who was thought to have information that would be useful to the Allies. Hampshire was sent to interrogate him. When he arrived, the head of the Resistance unit told Hampshire he could question the man, but that when he was through they were going to shoot him: that’s what they always did with these people. He then le) Hampshire alone with the prisoner. The man said immediately that he would tell Hampshire nothing unless Hampshire guaranteed he would be turned over to the British. Hampshire replied that he could not give such a guarantee. So the man told him nothing before he was shot by the French.

Another philosopher, when I told him this story, commented drily that what it showed was that Hampshire was a very poor choice for the assignment.

LRB Vol. 43 No. 11 · 3 June 2021, Types of Intuition, by Thomas Nagel.

Keyboard warriors and the reverse Voltaire

We are living through a time of online outrage and increasing irrationalism, and the combination has not been a happy one for public discussion. Generally, shallow emotion seems to be in the driving seat for many keyboard warriors: not the slow burn of genuine anger that fuels the prolonged, difficult pursuit of a worthwhile goal, but rather a feel-good performative outrage whose main expression is typing furious snark onto a computer screen before switching over to Netflix. [emphasis added]

Material Girls, by Kathleen Stock.

And applicable to a lot more than the topic of her excellent book. Sometimes, it takes a philosopher to spell out exactly what people are saying. She also introduced me to the reverse Voltaire from Mary Leng

I agree with what you have to say, but will fight to the death to prevent you from saying it.