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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

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Thursday, October 1, 2015


I should like to offer a special thank you to Magpie for his kind words about Moneybags Must Be So Lucky.  I have always thought that Moneybags is, pound for pound [or page for page] the best thing I ever have written, and it distressed me deeply that, in the words of David Hume, "it fell stillborn from the presses."  Indeed, it was the failure of that book to gain any notice at all [save for a nice review in The Village Voice, of all places, by George Sciallaba] that turned me away from writing for a while and into administration of a sort.  I am thrilled that all these years later my little book is finding an appreciative reader.

By the bye, do all of my blog followers understand the literal meaning of the metaphor "fell stillborn from the presses?"  Since I suspect not everyone does, I shall explain.  [I really am the sort of person who could cast a pall over the most  delightful occasion!]

In Hume's days, women did not give birth lying on their backs.  They sat on pieces of furniture called birthing stools, using the force of gravity to assist in the birth, much as other mammals do.  Hence the verb form "falling."  The image is that just as a stillborn fetus falls dead as the mother gives birth, so Hume's Treatise fell dead from the presses when it was published.  Our modern metaphor "dead on arrival" probably has a similar origin, but absent the image of the birthing stool.

Since it is Hume's style, above that of all other philosophers, to which I have aspired throughout my life, I take comfort in the fact that when he published, as a young man, the greatest work of philosophy ever written in English, the early reviewers were not kind.  I can still recall walking up and down the aisles of the stacks in Widener Library in 1956, pulling down copies of eighteenth century English journals and searching for reviews of Hume's Treatise.

Well, enough of strolling down memory lane.  Thank you, Magpie.


David Auerbach said...

I think Dead on Arrival is an ambulance/hospital term. There was a wonderful noirish film called DOA, where the protaganist had 24 hours or so to find out who had killed him (slow-acting poison). Here's a piece of the wikipedia entry:
he film begins with what a BBC reviewer called "perhaps one of cinema's most innovative opening sequences."[3] The scene is a long, behind-the-back tracking sequence featuring Frank Bigelow (Edmond O'Brien) walking through the hallway of a police station to report his own murder. Oddly, the police almost seem to have been expecting him and already know who he is.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Yes, on reflection I am sure you are right. That sounds like a really creepy movie.

mesnenor said...

"D.O.A." is a classic film noir, with one of the best examples of a MacGuffin in film history. It's highly atmospheric, but the plot is ultimately somewhat incoherent. Worth watching, though.

Jim said...

Professor Wolff --

Keep in mind that truly great art and literature is often produced ahead of its time, thereby requiring the rest of civilization to "catch up" in order to widely recognize its greatness. I am often reminded of Nietzsche who, while reaching a limited audience in his lifetime, nevertheless predicted that within a hundred years time people around the globe would write books about him and that major universities would endow chairs of philosophy in his name. He was indeed correct. Note Nietzsche from "Ecce Homo", p. 259: “It would contradict my character entirely if I expected ears and hands for my truths today: that today one doesn’t hear me and doesn’t accept my ideas is not only understandable, it even seems right to me.”

So, give "Moneybags" some time. It will probably sell like hotcakes once the Marx renaissance hits.

-- Jim

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Jim, I love that optimism. When exactly is the Marx renaissance scheduled for? I must have missed the memo.

I am much encouraged by the fact that Sextus Empiricus had a vogue in the 18th century, roughly two millennia after he wrote.

Magpie said...

Prof. Wolff

"Thank you, Magpie."

No, Prof. Wolff. Thank you.

I wish other books I have were half what Moneybags is: as insightful as it is entertaining. Reading Moneybags is a rewarding, pleasurable experience.

I've come to a rule by induction: authors who write in a pompous, infuriating, and pedantic manner often try to hide a lack of content, as if by posturing dramatically, full of sarcasm, they could frighten readers into seeing something, when there's nothing there to see.

I call those authors the anti-Wolffs.

mesnenor said...

On the subject of Sextus Empiricus, Alison Gopnik has recently written about possible direct connections between Hume and Buddhist thinkers.

See here:

and here for a more recent piece:

But perhaps the direct link isn't necessary, some time back Thoms McEvilley argued pretty convincingly in his book The Shape of Ancient Thought that some philosophical strains of Buddhism show the clear influence of Academic Greek philosophy, and that sections of several influential Buddhist texts read like summaries of passages from Sextus Empiricus.

Perhaps the similarities between Hume and Buddhism are due to his readings of Bayle and Sextus Empiricus, with the link to Buddhism due to an ancient connection between Sextus and some Indian thinkers.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I read the Alison Gopnik essay. I think your hypothesis is much more plausible. In a geeky sort of way, I find this fascinating.

mesnenor said...

Yeah, Gopnik's evidence is slim, but her accounts of her scholarly sleuthing are great to read.

Thomas Decker said...

I am a big fan of "Moneybags" and I have my son, who is a Junior at St John's/Annapolis,recommend it to his peers for its account of irony and its lucid prose. Same goes for Kant's Theory of MA. Sorry to hear that you are feeling poorly..
Be well!