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Will Buckingham's Wayward Things #7

March 2020

I should have known it... bad things happen on the Ides of March. I should never have named my March 2020 email newsletter after such an inauspicious date. As a result, it seems that many of you received an email with mangled links, for which I apologise!

After two days of sorting out the server glitches, and propitating various gods, all being well I've now got to the root of the problem. So here is the email again with links intact.

Happy reading!
Hello from an uncannily quiet Sofia,

These are strange times indeed: the city here is in lock-down. All bars, restaurants and shops are closed until further notice. So too are the various projects we are running with Wind&Bones. Meanwhile, on the streets, the trams are running almost empty.

But there's a lot to do. I'm finishing the edits on my book Hello Stranger: Stories of Connection in a Divided World, to send back to my editor at Granta in mid-April. I'm doing some editing for a children's encyclopedia of philosophy due out from Dorling Kindersley. I've got a load of online mentoring, coaching and teacahing to do. And I'm cooking up a storm in the kitchen.

So here's this month's Wayward Things, timed to coincide with the Ides of March. In this edition there are Chinese poems featuring drunk Buddhists, music from sunken ocean liners, partying philosophers, and more! I hope that you enjoy the links, and that, if you are locked down too, they provide some welcome distraction.


A New Website!

Over the past couple of weeks, I've given my website a thorough redesign.

The new website is now cleaner, leaner and easier to navigate. I'm now revising and republishing some of the older content worth keeping.

Here are a couple of articles from the archive: a piece about the Duracell Bunny, erection pills and conference etiquette in China; and a piece about the weirdness of academic philosophy as a way of life.

The Duracell Bunny and the Deputy Political Commissar

An encounter in at a conference in Wuxi with philosophers, diviners, the Duracell bunny, and the Deputy Political Commisar... with some thoughts on learning Chinese.
The Duracell Bunny and the Deputy Political Commissar
The Hard Cross-Cultural Problem in Philosophy

The Hard Cross-Cultural Problem in Philosophy

How can philosophy really be cross-cultural, when philosophers inhabit a global monoculture of dusty university departments?

Good Things From Elsewhere on the Web

On to some good things from elsewhere on the web. I'm sharing a piece from Emily Wilson, translator of the Odyssey, on why Homer's epic still matters. Over the past few weeks, I also stumbled across some beautiful public-domain images from the Biodiversity Heritage Library, so I'm sharing that too. Finally, I thought you'd all like some advice on how to party like Immanuel Kant.

Emily Wilson on translating Homer's Odyssey

As part of my research for Hello Stranger, I've been thinking and writing about Homer's Odyssey. It is an extraordinarily rich resource for thinking about Greek ideas of xenia, or guest-friendship. I've been using Emily Wilson's wonderful translation, and can thoroughly recommend it for the sheer aliveness and intelligence of the language. I also love this article by Wilson about why she chose to give Homer a contemporary voice.

The Loveliness that is the Biodiversity Heritage Library

This is a terrific resource: the Biodiversity Heritage Library has made available 150,000 botanical and animal illustrations. See the article on Colossal here.

The article links to the BHL's website, but also to their Flickr page, where the images are far easier to access. And then you can get lost in the endless wonder of these hand-drawn and hand-painted images.

How to Party Like Immanuel Kant

One thing I've been writing about in Hello Stranger is Immanuel Kant's set of rules for the perfect dinner-party.

Kant has the reputation of being dry and slightly heavy-going (not undeserved, if you have ever ploughed through his Critique of Pure Reason). But he was a big fan of dinner parties, and fastidious in his demands for what makes a good party.

Here's a nice summary article from recovering academic Dr. Sara Davis, on her Scenes of Eating blog. Oh, and the University of Edinburgh sometimes hosts their own Kantian dinner parties, if you are interested. See their web-page here.

Chinese Drinking Poems #7: Liu Zongyuan 柳宗元 (773-819)

Liu was a poet and essayist who lived during the Tang dynasty. He is perhaps most famous for his poem “River Snow” (江雪) one of the most translated of all Chinese poems.

Liu wrote both poetry and prose, mixing elements of Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism. This poem is about drinking, meditation, friendship and old age.
In the Western Pavilion of Fahua Temple, Drinking at Night.

In the Jeta grove,
by the setting sun pavilion,

together we pour

The fog is dark,
the river laps the steps,

the moon is bright,
flowers veil the window.

We are not yet done
with getting drunk—

gazing at each other,
our hair not yet white.




What I'm Reading...

I've been up to my ears in researchbooks about feasting, about ritual, about migration, about neighbourliness, and much else besides. I've also been continuing my Annie Dillard binge (everything she writes isworth reading, even though much of it seems half-mad).

However, one pleasure of working on Hello Stranger has been going back to some books that have long been important to me. One of them is Jean Briggs's remarkable ethnography Never in Anger, first published in 1970, about her fieldwork with an Utku Inuit family, and how a moment of anger led to the unravelling of her fragile relationships with the family who hosted her. It's out of print, I think, but easy to track down, and absolutely worth reading.

I feel like I've already recommended this before. If so, take this as a double-recommendation. It's a wonderfully-written book.


What I'm Listening To...

I stumbled across this several years ago—Gavin Bryars's The Sinking of the Titanic. It is a strange, unsettling piece, with 'pataphysical overtones—or undertones (whatever that might mean).

If this all sounds distinctly unappealing, the piece itself a eerily beautiful. You can read more about the piece in this essay from The Quietus. And you can listen to the whole thing on Youtube here.

On the album, there's also an early version of Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet, to which Tom Waits later lent his voice. Allegedly, the original version of Jesus' Blood was created in the Clephan Building, the building where, years later, I worked when I was at De Montfort University. So I'm claiming credit for it all (because 'pataphysics allows you to do that kind of thing).
Sinking of the Titanic _ Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet [Obscure]
That's all for this month. I hope you've enjoyed reading. See you in April for the spring edition of Wayward Things. By that time, I should have sent off my edits.

Stay well and healthy,

Will Buckingham

About me

I am a writer, philosopher, researcher and teacher of both writing and philosophy. I write non-fiction, fiction and children's books. I'm interested in the places where philosophies, stories and lives intersect. Currently freelance and based in Sofia, Bulgaria, I am represented by Emma Finn at C+W Agency in London.

Will Buckingham's Wayward Things is a free, monthly digest of things I find interesting, curious or worth sharing.
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