California Literary Review


Stemming from … Nowhere?


December 13th, 2019

To sum up in a phrase the true and deepest character of Lawrence’s genius, it was given by his close friend Aldous Huxley in an introduction to the first collected letters shortly after his death: he was a mystical materialist. And thereon hangs the tale I shall unfold.

The Death of Conscience in The Onion Field


December 9th, 2019

The stifling, frightening conclusion that we appear to be presented with in The Onion Field is that such a dream really is only a dream, that human beings may, in fact, have no inbuilt or inherent moral conscience, and that they can carry out the most self-evidently horrifying of crimes against one another with no checks, no trepidations, and no regrets.

Book Review: Justice For Hedgehogs by Ronald Dworkin


February 17th, 2011

Dworkin believes firmly in “cooperative” interpretation, reinforcing ethical precepts with insights from history, literature and philosophy that have stood the test of time. Among the great philosophers, he summons Plato, Immanuel Kant, David Hume and Frederick Nietzsche to lend their voices to the debate.

The Weekly Listicle: Ballad Of The Soldier


January 21st, 2011

This weekend, Peter Weir graces us with The Way Back, a tale of daring escape by prisoners of war. In due fashion this week’s Listicle salutes the soldier in film. From comedy to adventure to stark, sobering drama, soldiers have faced a great deal on the movie screen.

Book Review: How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell


November 10th, 2010

Born nearly five hundred years ago, Montaigne was one of the last great thinkers of the Renaissance. He can also stake a claim to be the first recognizable writer of modern times. Montaigne’s Essays are stocked with insights of such relevance, inspiration and humanity that they might well have been written yesterday – or tomorrow.

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton


July 23rd, 2009

The concept of Pleasures and Sorrows is a good one. De Botton sets out on a quest to explore a wide range of professions – biscuit manufacturing, rocket science, career counseling – and reflect on modern work. This idea leads him from the jungles of French Guiana to the wilds of suburban South London. He follows the journey of an African fish to the plate of an English boy.

The Second Book of the Tao


July 20th, 2009

The principle idea at the core of Existentialism was the denial of Descartes’ I think, therefore I am. Instead it was, I act, therefore I am. As for fishing, Thoreau never tells us what sort of fish there are, or were in his stream; nor if he ever caught anything. It was the fishing that was his active thought, and that sky full of pebbled stars was where his thought was actively cast. That is poetry, and it is untranslatable as paraphrase or a set of maxims. Whereas the sort of profundities Stephen Mitchell sets down in this book — neatly-designed and printed withal — are for this reader rebarbative.



December 8th, 2008

‘Can there have been any more inspiring vision this century than that of the Earth from space?’ exclaimed Lovelock, looking back. ‘We saw for the first time what a gem of a planet we live on. The astronauts who saw the whole Earth from Apollo 8 gave us an icon that has become as powerful as the scimitar or the cross.’

Coffee with… Series


March 20th, 2008

Barnes’s giant of the Western world is short, sharp, and funny, and well worth spending time with, even if he is, perhaps, more modern Englishman than ancient Greek in some places. As a taste of philosophical ideas Coffee with Aristotle is just right – now if only the longer treatises were as palatable.

Crossing Styx


October 30th, 2007

What happens to children is that they usually pass from believing that everything presented by television is real to a later conviction that “nothing is real.” In other words, the world has become crowded, permeated and possessed by the fictive.

Jeffrey J. Kripal, Author of Esalen


August 1st, 2007

“By human potentialities, Huxley and Esalen meant to refer to all those aspects of the human being that have not been generally developed in western educational practices and culture but are nevertheless quite real. It was Abraham Maslow who gave the Esalen actors a vocabulary and psychology to express how such potentialities might be actualized.”

The Enlightenment and the Intellectual Foundations of Modern Cultureby Louis Dupre


June 10th, 2007

The seventeenth and eighteenth century philosophical movement that came to be known as the Enlightenment was once the crown jewel of the western intellectual heritage. It promised lives based on order and reason. It seemed to offer the promise of human perfectibility. Such claims, however, have for some time not gone unchallenged.

The Morality of Everyday Life by Thomas Fleming


April 22nd, 2007

Dr. Fleming argues that since the birth of classical liberalism in the seventeenth century, a century that gave us “universality, rationality, individualism, objectivity, and abstract idealism,” Western Civilization has developed a flaw in its ethics, moral behavior, and thus in the construction of its state apparatus.

Denial of Death by Ernest Becker


April 11th, 2007

According to Becker, man is torn between his symbolic, self-conscious awareness and his animal nature. The same creature that names himself, imagines, explores and speculates is in the end, food for insects.

An Interview with Rebecca Goldstein, author of “Betraying Spinoza”


March 30th, 2007

“The issue that animated his life and his thought was that of religious intolerance. The Jews who excommunicated him at the tender age of 23 had themselves been victims of a prolonged, horrific exercise in both religious (as well as racial) intolerance. Spinoza uses this history of suffering to reason his way into uncompromising universalism, an outlook that reduces all the contingencies of birth–our religion and race and, by extension, our nationality, gender, sexual orientation–to details of no significance whatsoever in the real process of self-fulfillment.”

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