anotherlongshot (anotherlongshot) wrote,

Philosophy + Literature = Very Happy Me

Reading the first chapter of Appiah's book brought a huge smile to my face. The reason for that has nothing to do with his arguments or the point that he was making, but his usage of a literary character to illustrate his point about individuality.

His point about individuality is the following. He says that we can develop and pursue a rational life-plan for ourselves even within the confines of what Rawlsian liberals would term oppression, or lack of freedom, or in-built social constraints. Contrary to what some liberals would think, individuality isn't developed de novo, in a vacuum, in an abstract original position situated behind a veil of ignorance (okay, he doesn't explicitly make reference to Rawls' thought experiment, but I think the experimenet captures quite well the idea of an atomistic individual); and contrary to what these liberals think, authentic individuality can be developed by the self situated in his or her social world.

To illustrate this point, he uses Mr. Stevens from Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day, one of my favourite books. Mr. Stevens aims to be the best butler that he can be. This, to Appiah, is Mr. Stevens exercising his autonomy to develop and pursue a life plan that makes sense for him, that fits his social world, that plays to the strengths of his identities.

Of course, this point isn't particularly controversial or insightful; it is rather common sensical and self-evident. Appiah doesn't claim to say anything novel in the first chapter, merely seeks to lay the foundation for the arguments that will follow. After spending over a year reading the literature on liberalism vs. communitarianism, his point is also self-evident to me.

So the only interesting thing, the thing that made me smile, was his use of a literary character to illustrate his point. I love it when I catch glimpses of my first love in the reading that I do for my work. Of course, his reading of the character isn't quite what Ishiguro intends, but that is also the beauty of literature: the reader's response to the novel is ultimately personal, and so is her connection with it.

There really isn't anything I find more pleasurable in the world than connecting with an amazing, well-written novel.


On another note, I have been utterly destroyed by the cake that Matt gave me on Monday. Ever since indulging in that piece of chocolatey heaven, I have been craving sweet things like a drug addict. I walk past chocolates on display in supermarkets and cannot help but look longingly at them. My corridormate throws away an empty box of some Portuguese dessert that I'd never seen before in my life and I start imagining how amazing that sweetness would taste in my mouth. I look forward to waking up in the morning so that I can have my Freefrom Sainsbury's muesli for breakfast and savour the sweetness of the raisins in the muesli. How ridiculous.

Today, after dinner, I couldn't take it anymore so I made myself a soy strawberry and bananas smoothie...with a little bit of honey. Is that cheating? Surely it's okay to have some honey if the goal is to abstain from sugary desserts, right? Oh, how sweet the sweetness tastes. Why am I doing no desserts again? The plan was to fit nicely in my Chinese dress for my Chinee New Year formal (which I still need to write about), but that's over already, and I did fit quite nicely into it, so surely I can ditch the abstinence now?

Having said all that, the masochist in me rather gets off on this - on this resisting of temptation, on this pushing my own boundaries of what I can withstand, as if I have something to prove, as if I prove something, by resisting the temptation, pushing aside the craving. It's a bit like resisting the urge for a random hook up despite biology commanding me otherwise; even if I have no good reasons to resist (though I think I have at least two good reasons in this regard), I resist anyway - just because I can.

It is rather perverse, isn't it? It also rather makes me feel alive. I quite like it.


I shall wash some dishes now and head back to the library. It is so bloody cold in there. I can't wait for this dip in temperature to pass; it is killing me!
Tags: food, literature, phd, philosophy

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