Passion Play

Those who control their passions do so because their passions are weak enough to be controlled. (William Blake) ‘Lots of love and sex to everyone – it makes you happy.’ That was a New Year’s wish in a Flemish weekly at the end of 2007. But does it really? Around the same time Stages of…

Twelve Languages, Thirteen Perspectives

In general I am, I’m pretty sure, a privileged if still very limited witness, having been a part-time inhabitant of the Cape for nearly twenty years and remained the most passionate of lovers, for just as long, of the whole blessed glorious pandemonium there on the underside of what we so often call, both properly and improperly, ‘the Dark…

An Extract from ‘Specht and Son’

Creator decided to set about the job in exactly the same way as when he painted a portrait of a living person, in so far as it was possible. That is to say, he agreed on three sittings with Specht. During those Saturday meetings, which lasted a couple of hours each and took place at…

Man the Player

Huizinga’s ‘Homo Ludens’ Revisited In 1972, in a lecture at the big Huizinga congress in Groningen, Ernst Gombrich made the suggestion that Huizinga’s biography of Erasmus was a form of self-criticism. ‘Somehow the great humanist aroused in him all the ambivalent feelings that sprang from a life-long fight against the temptations of cultured aestheticism.’ Gombrich’s…

A Convenient Desert

The Low Countries as a Refuge for the Spirit René Descartes first arrived in the Netherlands in 1618. An officer in the young Republic’s army, which was more or less idle because of the Twelve Years’ Truce, he stayed in Breda for about a year. Subsequently he spent a few years travelling round Central Europe…

Happiness and Suffering in Utopia Achieved

‘Science does change the world. If part of our humanness is our susceptibility to certain sorts of pain, then the task of curing pain may involve putting an end to humanness.’ (1) That is the weighty conclusion that Martha Nussbaum attaches to her own technical utopia, derived from her discussion of Plato’s Protagoras. Nussbaum starts…

Out of Utopia?

Hans Achterhuis on Welfare and Happiness The words ‘welfare and happiness’ set the tone for the book with which the Dutch philosopher, Hans Achterhuis, would achieve public recognition in 1980. But those words did not stand alone. The title of the book, which gave rise to intense debate about the way in which the state…