Miguel de Unamuno’s earliest memory was of a bomb landing on the roof of his neighbor’s house during Spain’s final Carlist War. The philosopher and poet was born in conflict. Unamuno was a Spanish patriot and one of its most outspoken critics; a Basque who was also a Spaniard; a child who wanted to be a Catholic saint; a philosopher who was suspicious of philosophy.

Miguel de Unamuno woke one night in 1897, tormented by dreams of falling into nothingness. Just a few months earlier, Unamuno’s infant son Raimundo had contracted meningitis. Raimundo’s illness disabled him physically and mentally. He was not expected to live long. Miguel de Unamuno believed that this tragedy was his fault, divine punishment for turning away from his childhood faith and embracing scientific rationalism. That night in 1897, Unamuno’s wife Concha found her husband sobbing. She held him and called out, “My child!” Years later,… More…

I used to write and read poems often when I was in college, but now I have a demanding job and a family with three kids. I’m just too busy these days, and I fear that poetry has become a thing of my past. How can a regular guy bring more poetry into his life without dedicating hours of scholarship? –James

 

PoetryDaily.com, VerseDaily.com, Poets.org, and probably lots of other sites include a poem each day on their webpage. You can sign up to have poems e-mailed directly to you, and if you find the time between this or that obligation, you could read them. You may not have time to read a poem every day, but two a week is certainly better than no poems at all. Or if your inbox is already too full, you could buy… More…

There have been Sundays, in bed, in a hotel room, hungover or not, wherein my prospects for getting out of bed seem slim, what with the television right there, and the remote control so near my head. Despite hundreds of channels and the free HBO — generally just showing something directed by Ron Howard over and over and over again — I will stop on Joel Osteen or Rick Warren or some other reprehensible creature in a mega church of some sort. On those Sundays, it’s hard to feel the repulsion I usually have for such views. It’s the perfect hair and the shiny, shiny teeth. These men are always telling me that God has plans for me. “Oh, Joel Osteen,” I say out loud to the television. “Tell me what those plans are.”

Meaning in Life and Why It Matters by… More…

Some Republicans have been distressed in recent years to hear that the icon of their party, Abraham Lincoln, may have been playing for the other team. It had been whispered for years that Lincoln was gay, and there is no doubt that some of his behavior would point that way today — most notably, for four years he shared a bed with his friend Joshua Speed. The intense relationship began in 1837, when a 28-year-old Lincoln — then a tall, calloused-hand frontiersman with mournful eyes — turned up at Speed’s general store in Springfield, Illinois, hoping to make it as a lawyer. Lincoln couldn’t afford the bed on sale, so Speed immediately offered to share his own mattress upstairs. From that day on, the pair became passionate and all-but-inseparable friends. When Speed finally did move out of the mattress to be married, Lincoln was shattered, sinking into such a black… More…

Just now, after I pressed “quick min” twice, I turned away. That’s too long to stand, watching the countdown. I can’t stomach letting 120 seconds pass while I gaze, mindless, at the clock. Even 30 seconds seem like a stretch. But some days I’m reckless, and I watch the numbers change, marking the seconds remaining until the bell signals that the steaming plate is ready. The seconds pass, forever gone.

 

When I once made what I called “airline eggs,” I watched them cook, a pale yellow with green flecks of dill and parsley, in a flat white bowl. The eggs puffed like a sad soufflé in almost no time at all.

Ten digitally measured seconds go quickly; six such seconds leave no time to think. Sometimes I punch in three 10-second intervals, one right after the other, to… More…

There comes in the life of every city an era of unsurpassed greatness. Whether it’s an aligning of the stars or simply a convergence of social pressures, cultural influences, history, and politics, the city bursts forth with great innovation, creative outpouring, and a lively sense of community. They are exciting times to live through, if you happen to be lucky enough to be there. Suddenly the world opens up and you are a part of something bigger than your own daily life. You can talk of revolution without having to use air quotes or a sarcastic tone, and riots can start over a jarring new form of music. Cities such as Bohemian New York, Weimar Berlin, Paris between the wars, pre-Revolutionary Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and pretty much every major Western city in 1968 brought into life new music, architecture, visual art, scientific advancement, and social structure. Residents watched as… More…

In the past year I’ve reviewed books on what I thought were diverse topics: the philosophy of time, neurobiology, writing, happiness, mental illness. It turns out they were all about the same subject: how to live. Many of the books thought they had it all figured out. The problem is cell phones! No, wait, it’s our ambition! All we need are fish oils and Vitamin D! Or a hug, how about a hug? And I can’t even count how many of them included the words “money does not make a person happy.” The world does seem to be reordering itself — with or without our permission — and everyone is trying to make sense of it, from philosophers to scientists, theologians to poets.

The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy by Franco Berardi. 192 pages. Semiotext(e). $14.95.

I… More…

An investigation into his Facebook status updates revealed inaccurate reporting and unreliable social commentary on his life, so Alex Strum hired a personal ombudsman to fact check his updates.

September 18, 2009 – 7:45 PM – Alex Strum is trying to get some homework done before going to work…lamest Friday ever?

It should be noted that there are discrepancies with what Alex was actually doing. Although his schoolwork was present and in the open, his attention was mostly focused on the television, where Point Break was airing again on the USA network. Alex almost made his status a quote from Gary Busey’s character (“Utah! Get me two!”). In hindsight that would’ve been far more representative of where his attention lay, but Alex feared that those unfamiliar with the movie would judge him for his vague request of a state he’s never been to. “Going to work”… More…

You can tell a lot about a person by the relationship she has with time — what she values, how she works, and often where she came from. I have often wondered if my own anxiety about the wide expanse of the day goes back to my rural Kansas upbringing. Barred from watching television and encouraged (pushed) to explore the outdoors, the way I view the hours of the day correlates with the view of the horizon: flat, never ending, bichromal. I wake in the morning to wonder how in the world I will ever find a way to break that expanse into manageable chunks without falling into boredom or uselessness.

Time by Eva Hoffman. 224 pages. Picador. $14.00

Whether it’s the American motto “time is money,” or the Eastern European saying “When man is in a hurry,… More…

[I]s it not the case that the older one becomes the more life reveals itself to be deceptive, the smarter one becomes, the more ways one learns to help himself, the worse off he is, the more one suffers. A small child is completely helpless and yet thrives. I remember once having seen a nursemaid on the street pushing a baby carriage in which there were two children. The one, just barely a year old, had fallen asleep and lay in the carriage dead to the world. The other was a little girl around two years old, chubby in short sleeves just like a little woman. She had pushed herself forward in the carriage and easily took up two thirds of the space. The smaller child lay next to her as if it were a package the woman had brought with her. With an admirable egoism, she appeared not to… More…