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The Thought Gang
by Tibor Fischer

From Booklist
British writer Fischer's new "fin-de-millennium" novel is a rocking good time. He puns his way through a text that manages to be as witty and erudite as the late novels of Nabokov and every bit as extreme and satirical as Pulp Fiction. Eddie Coffin, his hero, is a lazy philosopher with a taste for alcohol and a knack for getting himself into some extremely compromising situations. After getting arrested nude in a room full of kiddie porn, he leaves England for France but promptly wrecks his car, loses all his money, and gets held up by Hubert, a guy with assorted removable body parts and more ambition than success as a holdup man. Since he has nothing worth stealing and no way of supporting himself, Coffin teams up with Hubert, who dubs them the Thought Gang. They don Nietzsche masks, disarm their perfectly willing victims with discourse, baffle the authorities, and become folk heroes. But amusing as the plot is, it's the thought behind it that counts. Fischer's brand of hip, cynical humor is almost guaranteed a cult following. ---Donna Seaman

From: Dean Denis Date: Saturday, March 15, 2003 11:35 AM The first thing I noticed about this outrageous romp through western philosophy and the French underworld is that it gives excellent advice about what to do when you awaken from a blackout while the police are apprehending you in a very uncompromising situation. You should in effect behave exactly opposite to how the police expect you to. This, in effect, renders you almost invisible. The corollary is that police (and, by extension, people in general) do not deal with the world as it is but rather with their own habits of dealing with the world. This book had me sprouting corinthian columns of disbelief at the outrageous, oh, let me say it, zany exploits of Eddie Coffin and his partner in crime, Hubert, a one-armed armed robber intent on showing life who is boss. Please post the zapotes of your zetting here. Dean All roads lead to roam.
From: R Bavetta Date: Saturday, March 15, 2003 12:32 PM I'm ztill wading thru thiz one, but I muzt zay I'm finding it tough zledding. If it doezn't catch fire for me zoon, I may zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Ruth
From: Dean Denis Date: Saturday, March 15, 2003 04:47 PM There are some awfully funny bits and I found the word play very amusing starting with the frontispiece where we find the definition of the Greek word "idiotai": one's own countrymen. And so, the opposite of "xenophobia" would be "idiophobia." Dean All roads lead to roam.
From: Dean Denis Date: Tuesday, March 18, 2003 09:36 PM On p.69 of the Scribner Paperback edition, Eddie Coffin gives us the benefit of his erudition (when does he not?) in the form of a Top Ten List of philosophical hits. Here are the translations into English where required and my comments where not required of all 15 of them: 1. This Zeno has said; what (say) you? (Seneca) See #15. 2. We could not imagine anything so strange and so little credible, that it was not said by one of the philosophers. (Descartes) 3. … and that everything is true. (Protagoras) There is a missing apostrophe due to elision. It should be “… kai pant’einai agethe.” Thanks to Richard Ghilardi and Jerker Blomqvist of the Greek Study list server for their help. Protagoras of Abdera was one of several fifth century Greek thinkers (including also Gorgias, Hippias, and Prodicus) collectively known as the Older Sophists, a group of traveling teachers or intellectuals who were experts in rhetoric (the science of oratory) and related subjects. Protagoras is known primarily for three claims (1) that man is the measure of all things (which is often interpreted as a sort of radical relativism) (2) that he could make the "worse (or weaker) argument appear the better (or stronger)" and (3) that one could not tell if the gods existed or not. While some ancient sources claim that these positions led to his having been tried for impiety in Athens and his books burned, these stories may well have been later legends. Protagoras' notion that judgments and knowledge are in some way relative to the person judging or knowing has been very influential, and is still widely discussed in contemporary philosophy. 4. I am stupid always have been. (Hamann) Johann Georg Hamann Johann Georg Hamann (1730-1788) lived and worked in Prussia, in the context of the late German Enlightenment. Although he remained outside ‘professional’ philosophical circles, in that he never held a University post, he was respected in his time for his scholarship and breadth of learning. His writings were notorious even in his own time for the challenges they threw down to the reader. These challenges to interpretation and understanding are only heightened today. Nevertheless an increasing number of scholars from philosophy, theology, aesthetics and German studies are finding his ideas and insights of value to contemporary concerns. His central preoccupations are still pertinent: language, knowledge, the nature of the human person, sexuality and gender and the relationship of humanity to God. Meanwhile, his views, which in many respects anticipate later challenges to the Enlightenment project and to modernity, are still relevant and even provocative. 5. Skeptomai. I examine. (Sextus Empiricus) 6. Themistocles saved Athens from invasion by Persia but was later ostracized. This scene may be Coffins speculation about Themisticles letting Athenians know what he thinks of their politics. 7. If I cannot accomplish the alchemist-trick, to make gold out of this mud, then I am lost. (Nietzsche). This was written by Nietzsche in a letter to friend when he was struggling to raise himself out of a deep depression brought on when his affections were spurned by Lou Andrea-Salomé. She later had relationships with Rainer Maria Rilke and Sigmund Freud. 8. David Hume (1711-1776) also said: Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates; and each mind perceives a different beauty. One person may perceive deformity, where another is sensible of beauty; and every individual ought to acquiesce in his own sentiment, without pretending to regulate those of others. To seek the real beauty, or real deformity, is as fruitless an enquiry as to ascertain the real sweet or real bitter. According to the disposition of the organs, the same object may be both sweet and bitter... 9. It is (the sign) of a weak mind not to be able to put up with wealth. (Seneca) There is another error here. It should read “divitias.” Thanks to Edward Casey of Latin Study list server for his help. 10. Hume influenced the development of skepticism and empiricism. 11. Ibn Khaldun wrote a lengthy treatise on the processes of social and political change. His thinking is much influenced by Aristotelian ideas, in particular the idea of nature as a source of development toward a goal. 12 Without a doubt our purpose is to live according to Nature. (Seneca) Seneca goes on to say This is against nature: to torture one's own body and to hate favorable cleanness and strive after dirtiness and to enjoy foods not only vile, but loathsome and uncouth. Thanks to Ernie Sjorgen of Latin Study list server for his help. 13. If I doubt, I exist. (St. Augustine) Augustine, as a Platonist, distrusted the senses as a source of certain knowledge. As a result, he solves the question of knowledge by turning to the internal mechanism of thought itself. For Augustine the question of knowledge involves two problems: one regarding the existence of the subject, the other regarding the origin of concepts. He resolves the first question with the famous argument: "If I doubt, I exist" (Si fallor, sum)?; he resolves the second by appealing to illumination, i.e., the belief that the eternal truths are imparted to our soul by the Word of God. 14. The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the most honest people of past centuries. (Descartes) Descartes reworking of #13 is much more well known. 15. Be master and articulate what (of) memory is handed down. This is part of a passage which reads: ‘This Zeno has said’: what (say) you? ‘This Cleanthes (has said)”: what (say) you? To what extent are you moved by others? Be master and articulate what (of) memory is handed down, produce also something derived from yourself. Dean All roads lead to roam.
From: Sherry Keller Date: Wednesday, March 19, 2003 07:30 AM Thanks for all your work, Dean. Now I need to go put it all in context. I read this on the plane and at the beach. I had no dictionary at hand (and hadn't found the partial glossary in the back of the book) so much of this went right over my head. But what made it in my head made me laugh and marvel. What an exercise in cleverness! Was Fischer's goal to use all the z-words there were? How do you think he succeeded in writing "the" end-of-millennium book? Do you think he made words up? Do you think the philosophy parts fit into the book well? What was the connection between the philosophy and the plot? It was, as Jane said, a real over-the-top book. But quite original. Sherry
From: R Bavetta Date: Wednesday, March 19, 2003 10:14 AM I'm within a quarter of an inch of the end, but I put it aside a few days back and haven't been able to whip up enough enthusiasm to finish. I'm sure he made some words up, Sherry. And it was very clever, but I found it awfully repetitive. Ruth
From: Dean Denis Date: Wednesday, March 19, 2003 10:17 AM The moral seems to be, no matter what you want to do, there's a philosopher somewhere in history to back you up. Or at least, whose ideas can be interpreted to suit your needs. Indeed, throughout history, they often have. This wasn't always a bad thing. Consider the influence of Hume et alii on the writers of the American constitution. Philosophy has always had practical consequences. People have coalesced around ideas and have transformed them into ideologies and from there to political movements. To be human is to have a philosophy. I didn't try to coincide philosophical ideas with plot line. Both seemed to me too erratic but that was the fun. Dean All roads lead to roam.
From: Jane Niemeier Date: Tuesday, March 25, 2003 10:02 PM Dean, I found this book to be great fun after reading the selections for the last two months: THE CORRECTIONS and CONTINENTAL DRIFT. I particularly liked Hubert's antics. Eddie protested a lot, but he always went along with Hube's ideas. You mentioned the top ten. I also liked the bottom ten on pp. 148 - 149. For example: 8. Condorcet...His idea of the tenth epoch (1789 -) the abolition of stupidity. (We're almost there, it's just around the corner). Jane
From: Sherry Keller Date: Wednesday, March 26, 2003 06:58 AM I agree, Jane. I really did like Hubert's antics. I like the challenges he set up for the robberies. I had a feeling the last theft would be computer-oriented. Sherry
From: Dean Denis Date: Wednesday, March 26, 2003 09:30 AM Thanks for reminding me of the Bottom Ten, Jane. Re-reading them had me laugh out loud again. Hubert was quite amazing. At one point he says that one needs "to show life who's boss" but he couldn't have done it with Eddie. Dean All roads lead to roam.
From: Jane Niemeier Date: Thursday, March 27, 2003 09:24 PM Sherry and Dean, Another thing that I liked about the book was Eddie's self-deprecating humor. He certainly was hard on himself when it came to descriptions of himself. He is fat and bald, is not worthy of his job, and should be dead because of his alcohol and drug problems. He was quite refreshing. Jane

Tibor Fischer
Tibor Fischer

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