The other day, I took a break from my writing desk and went into the kitchen to make bread. There’s something therapeutic about the process of mixing flour and yeast and water, combining it, then turning it out onto the table to knead it into shape.
When I write, sometimes words and ideas start to slip away from me. Things become intangible. At times like this, it is good to roll up my sleeves, head into the kitchen and chuck a bit of flour around. There’s something about making dough, combining it, turning it out, and kneading it into shape…
Several years ago, I attended a talk by the Canadian poet Erín Moure. She talked about poetry and translation and writing. It was a talk so full of brilliant insights that, as I jotted things down in my notebook, I struggled to keep up. But after the talk, as I looked back at my hastily scribbled notes, one line stood out:
Books are emigrants. They belong where they end up. — Erín Moure
In a couple of short sentences, Moure managed to conjure something of the essence of why books matter to me, something about the solitariness and freedom this…
I arrived in Yangon for the first time in January 2017, my life broken into pieces. The previous year had been punishing. In August, Elee, my partner of thirteen years, died of breast cancer. Before her death, we talked about what I would do after. I said I didn’t know. ‘You should get away,’ Elee said. ‘Once everything has settled down, you should get away.’
And because Elee’s advice was always good, that’s what I did. The week after Elee died, I saw a job advertised in Myanmar. I had never been to Myanmar before, and knew very little about…
It is the loveliest of poems: sad, defiant and intimate, all at the same time. It is a poem about growing old, exile and disappointment, written by one of China’s greatest women poets, Li Qingzhao (1084–c.1151). And despite being written almost one thousand years ago, the images are so strong, it is a poem that still speaks clearly and plainly to us today.
I came across Li’s poem several years ago. At the time, I was translating poems as a way of learning classical Chinese. Over the years since I first discovered it, I’ve come back to the poem several…
We spend much of our lives working. And much of the time when we are not working, we spend talking about work, recovering from work, fretting about work, or wondering if we should work more or work less.
But less often do we stop to think more deeply about work. What, after all, is work? Why does it loom so large in our lives? And when it comes to questions like these, philosophy can help throw more light on what work is, and why it matters.
In his book on the philosophy of work, the philosopher Lars Svendsen says that…
Thanks again, Avi. It's a wonderful insight from Erin Moure.
I think I've read that Chekov story ages ago, but I should go back to reading more of him.
I love found books, and the sense that this object has a history. But I do have a weakness for new books as well.
O'Neill starts from a slightly different point of view with her claim that for people to trust us, we need to work on becoming trustworthy. But as you suggest, this does also involve a degree of trust in others — at the very least, the trust that they will respond to trustworthiness.
The philosopher Adriaan Peperzak talks about trust as extending credit, which I think is an interesting take. So develop trustworthiness, and extend others the credit of assuming that they will respond to this well.
There’s something appealing about the idea of universal love. But as the Chinese philosopher Mo Di pointed out, loving everybody is quite a task.
Mozi — more commonly known as Mozi (or “Master Mo”)—lived sometime between the fifth and fourth centuries BCE. The evidence suggests he was born, as was Confucius, in the state of Lu. Many later writers have suggested that he was an artisan—perhaps a wheelwright or carpenter—and was something of an outsider to the high society of the political and intellectual circles in the China of his day.
Trust is hard. It seems to be at the same time both necessary and risky. A world without trust would be a world of unimaginable horror. But whom should we trust and when? And if we want to build a society where there is a greater degree of trust—which seems a worthwhile goal—how do we go about it?
These are not just abstract questions. They are questions that have a real, existential impact on our lives. …
The philosopher Democritus was born in the city of Abdera in Thrace sometime around 460 BCE. Along with his teacher, Leucippus, he is considered the founder of Greek materialism.
Between them, Leucippus and Democritus introduced a new idea into the Greek philosophical world: the idea that the things of the universe were constructed out of innumerable, infinitesimally small building blocks that they called atoms. But instead of this being a cause for despair, for Democritus, this vision of the universe was a cause for a deep cheerfulness.
Leucippus is said to have authored two books: On Mind and The Great…