Existential Heaviness?

I'm still at the point where it thrills me to think that people actually walk into bookstores and buy my new book, people who are not actually close relatives of mine, such as my mother. And to think these people actually take it home and read it! How extremely nice of them. But if somebody buys it, and reads it, and then reviews it positively....That's a huge treat.

I got a happy-making e-mail from William Irwin last night saying he'd posted a review on his myspace blog. In fact, he's not actually a relative of mine, but the editor of Blackwell's Philosophy and PopCulture Series. His newest book is Metallica and Philosophy. I love the subtitle--"A Crash Course in Brain Surgery."Being metallica-challenged, I haven't read it, but I do have The Simpsons and Philosophy, which Irwin edited when he was affiliated with Open Court. The book's got a great article called "Thus Spake Bart: On Nietzsche and the Virtues of Being Bad"(by Mark Conrad), from which I learned a significant amount of what I know about Nietzsche. A friend of mine uses the book as the basis for a philosophy course.

Irwin calls my book "a wonderfully accessible work of philosophy." No, really, he's not related. He makes an observation about the title that amused me. He says it suggests "existential heaviness," when in fact it "indicates the balancing that needs to be done." Exactly. When I chose the title, I was thinking about the way we attach different weights to different things. But I'm beginning to think it really does convey (to some people) something like "the unbearable heaviness of being."

A google search of "the weight of things" turns up an amazing number of entries involving the gnashing of teeth and spilling of tears. For example, from a song by Maroon5:
The weight of things that remain unspoken.
Built up so much it crushed us everyday....
Every night you cry yourself to sleep
Thinking "Why does this happen to me?
Why does every moment have to be so hard?
Thinking up the title of my book was the only painful part of writing it. It started off with a very peppy title: "Heading for the Good Life: A Route through Philosophy." After a while it started seeming absurd to hint that I actually possess the route to the good life, so I changed it to "Necessary Aims: The Puzzle of the Good Life." The good people at Blackwell thought this was not good in roughly 15 different ways. Approximately 1001 titles later, we arrived at the current title.

Oh well...enough of that. I really appreciate the review.


Doug.E.Barr said...

Congratulations! When I began to write my ‘book’ around 1970 I entitled the effort “A Systematic Anthropology”. As I began rewriting it around 1980 I gave it the title “What’s Happening: a view of Life”. In 1998 after a publisher said he wasn’t interested I decided my view would not be published unless I drew attention to it in some way. So I transformed it into an epic poem and a précis for a writing competition and gave both pieces the title “The Law of Human Nature”. The judges were not impressed. I let it sit while I cared for my parents but when my father died in 2004 I decided to self-publish my poem on the web. I bought a computer, learned to type and set up my web site. I decided to call my web site and my poem “The Last Why”. My web site I subtitled “the essence of life” but have since changed the subtitle to better explain the title. I have recently rewritten and published my précis and also gave it the title “The Last Why”. When I rework my original essay to accommodate that title, I will publish it as well.

In an effort to draw attention to my web site I became a member of www.ilovephilosophy.com, the top philosophical forum in Google. In April ’06 I began a thread using a piece I wrote for my web site, called “Life: a reaction to the void”. Sometime this week the hits it has received will be around 30,000. I also began to write short philosophical poems for the site’s creative writing forum. I have written about 35 which over 25,000 people have read. These numbers could be considered a favorable review; but because on every post I make there are links to my site and directly to my poem that now has the rider, “what life is all about”, I consider the hits potential visitors to my site. I think I am being generous in estimating I have had about 250 ILP generated visits and of these I only know of 2 who have read my poem.

Nevertheless, I am not yet ready to change the title. I am going with the theory that at ILP I am in a chat room and not a think room and while members love to talk about ‘philosophy’, no one is really interested in thinking about life. It was while looking for a think room to confirm my theory that I found epistemelinks. I am waiting to see if the owner will accept the blog of a carpenter. One day when checking the list to see if my blog had been added I decided to click on yours. When I saw your entry about poison ivy I responded to let you know it was read by someone. If my blog is accepted, this site should similarly generate some useful visits. I was admitted to the Canadian Academy of Independent Scholars and when they get it set up, being in their data base will likely also help. I have as well submitted abstracts of my précis and my short poems to the editorial committee of their journal. If they like at least the poems as much as the readers at ILP seem to, then exposure in that journal should generate even more attention. If I do get all this attention but still get no response then I will consider changing the title of all my writing to “The Work of a Fool: the result of believing it matters what we do". At the moment I continue to "believe".

Jean Kazez said...

I'm a big fan of the internet. One of the reasons I enjoy writing my blog is because it's nice to be able to write something and get it out there without first gaining the approval of some publisher or editor. You write what you want to write, and lo and behold, people actually want to read it!

All your struggles with titles certainly do ring a bell. I think a great title can do wonders for a book. The trick is to find one...especially since "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" has already been taken.

I looked up ILP and found some of your poems. "Heaven" is good! I agree with the point of it 100%.

Doug.E.Barr said...

I just checked to see if I had been added to the list and while here I thought I'd thank you for what I suspect was your visit to my site. When I take my time my handwriting is legible; when I don't it looks like a Doctor's script. Last night I searched what I thought was your reference to Nietzsche and couldn't find it so I returned to your site to find out what I had written. I was happy to learn N. wrote another book besides "Thus Spoke Zarathrustra", "Beyond Good and Evil" and "The Will to Power" which I recently discovered he didn't write.

While I was at your site I read more of your entries and discovered we have at least two conflicting beliefs. First of all you believe it is important to declare your atheism. I believe the beliefs we have prevent us from "reaching out..." Christian, Jew, Muslim, Atheist, the labels are equally self-destructive. They each put a cut in the face of humanity and as a result we are bleeding to death.

You also seem to believe there are an infinite number of secrets to a "better life". I believe there is only one. Poetically speaking, God made life simple; Man made life hard. This is not to imply the "simple life" is easy. On the contrary, living without the religious/philosophies and the rest of the stuff that complicate life is the ultimate challenge.

Jean Kazez said...

Yes, I did have a visit to your site. I like your poetry.

Re atheism:

"First of all you believe it is important to declare your atheism. I believe the beliefs we have prevent us from "reaching out..." Christian, Jew, Muslim, Atheist, the labels are equally self-destructive."

Up to a point, I agree with you. It worries me that by declaring myself an atheist I create a wall between myself and other people. Sometimes, I can make "common cause" with those people on extremely important issues. For example, I've been writing about the crisis in Darfur and don't for a second want someone to feel out of synch with me because in some previous post I said I was an atheist.

On the other hand, it does seem absurd that "atheist" is a dirty word. There's a movement afoot, started by Richard Dawkins and others, to get the word out in the open. I feel like I should do my part. Gradually, it might actually be accepted and respected that there are good, reasonable people who reject religion. Being an atheist doesn't mean I'm intolerant of people who are religious. I'm not.

"Infinite secrets"...well, not really. I have a list of things in my book that seem to me to be necessities. But I don't expect my list to seem especially convincing without all the arguments in the book. Thus, when I wrote that "Secrets to a Better Life" post, I didn't take the whole idea too seriously.

Anonymous said...

This is Bill Irwin, and I confirm that I am not related to Jean Kazez. Like lots of people who have never met Jean, I love her book. I hope my students do too, because I've assigned it this semester.
On another note, the subtitle to my Metallica book, "A Crash Course in Brain Surgery" is actually the title of a Budgie song that metallica covered on their $5.98 EP.

Jean Kazez said...

Oh no, another sign that I am metallica-challenged! I missed the whole point of the subtitle. I just thought it sounded good! (And now I'm scratching my head...hmm...$5.98...is that the price?) I think I better give up, but I AM going to look for Bill's book next time I'm at Barnes and Noble.

Doug.E.Barr said...

Unfortunately you weren’t on the editorial committee to which I sent my abstracts. Someone at ILP said recently no reputable journal will publish anything but obscure free verse. Perhaps I am wrong in assuming that readers generally like my poems. It could be they just like the titles. I was doubtful about my essay being accepted by a journal that specifies “papers” be written in accordance with the “Chicago Manual of Style” or whatever it is called; so while I was disappointed they didn’t even want to read my essay, I wasn’t too surprised. For the same reason I doubt my admissibility to this site.

I won’t be surprised if my older sister never reads my essay or visits my site but for another reason. She is a former nursing instructor and her husband is a general surgeon. Together they spread the Christian gospel at every opportunity. They know I haven’t been in a church by choice for 37 years yet because I remained mute they tolerated me until a year ago. At that time I sent the address of a Mother poem to my brother-in-law thinking he might send it to my sister who was working in Sri Lanka at the time. While he was at my site he read “Sin” and “Life after death”, two other articles I had written. Were it not for the fact our mother lives with me, they would have severed their relationship with me completely.

Sometime ago I suggested to my sister that we try to get along better. She replied, “Your unbelief is an impediment to our getting along.” To avoid making a bad situation worse I didn’t respond. I hope you agree I could have told my sister unbelief can not logically be an impediment and therefore it is her belief that is the wall between us. Had I tried to explain this logic to my sister she would have called me an absolute idiot. She wouldn’t have had to, to put that thought into my mind. I already had serious doubts I could convince anyone our beliefs are the source of conflict or it even mattered that I try to explain if we continue to “tolerate” our beliefs we will self-destruct. The thought returns frequently. It returned yesterday.

Jean Kazez said...

Re: publishing. The beauty of the internet is that you can publish what you want. You might even get more readers that way. Trying to publish is full of frustrations...I've had my share of them.

Re religious family: that's too bad. It seems very un-Christian of them.

Doug.E.Barr said...

I used my family anecdote only to illustrate how our beliefs, including the belief that there is no God, prevent the formation of, and destroy relationships. Our relationship would be intact if my sister and her husband were “un-Christian”.