The past year gives one the suspicion that American society is dysfunctional. Our Congress is useless, our institutions inept. Faced with the terror of existence, young men react with violence. Faced with manageable problems such as reforming health care, our democracy self-destructs. Anger is everywhere; understanding is nowhere.
Although a democratic society cannot function unless its citizens are able to rationally debate one another, rationality is missing from American politics. We assail our political enemies with intractable opinions and self-righteous anger. An ugly bitterness pervades everything. Meanwhile, our country is slowly but surely committing suicide.
It seems to me that this dysfunctional political dialogue, which stems from the iron certainty we grant our opinions, is the most pressing problem confronting 21st century America. In fact, it is a crisis. For without the ability to carry on a useful dialogue, we cannot solve our greatest challenges, or even our smallest ones.
This raises the question: How can we solve this crisis? Because the capacity to debate requires the capacity to think, I believe the answer lies in philosophy.
Why philosophy? Because the study of philosophy, the “love of wisdom,” creates and nurtures thoughtful minds, minds that can — as Aristotle suggests — entertain a thought without accepting it.…
A bird spills its codes into the air, resting in the long arms of a tree.
You, stranger bird, who set you singing in the secret leaves of coming summer?
It’s busy work, stitching the sky to the river. Some think the job’s done when cloudy stories turn the great wheel and currents sweep deep disturbances. But as the river shoulders its way to the sea, the pattern’s still weaving.
Foam is written on the water, calligraphy, a certain alphabet peculiar to this river of specificities.
Rain is coming. Mountains shrug against the horizon.
A branch shudders with its burden. Eddies swirl in the water.
I levitate to the thirteenth floor each time I proclaim how desperately I covet connection, and once the capsule jerks to a halt, and my stomach drops, the light blooms, the imperceptible chime rings, but the door won’t budge because sincerity is too much, and the floor was never there.
Author’s Note: “Triskaidekaphobia” was written for a poetry exercise called The Fish Tank of Rage, where you are given an abstract emotion and a random object and must craft a poem combining the two. “Triskaidekaphobia” was the product of “the elevator of rejection” and plays upon the idea of many buildings lacking a 13th-floor due to superstition. …
Alex Andy Phuong earned his Bachelor of Arts in English from California State University—Los Angeles in 2015 while also serving as an editor for Statement Magazine.
What were your duties as editor for Statement Magazine?
Statement Magazine is the literary magazine that has been part of California State University—Los Angeles since 1950. As an editor, my job was to read over a hundred creative pieces that consisted of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and hybrid forms. We did not exactly categorize the writing, though, because the staff wanted to celebrate the creative writing talents of the entire university. The editors also had the judge each written piece to assess whether or not the writing is of a professional and literary quality. Other staff members also judged artwork based on photographs that artists submitted, and then the entire staff celebrates the production of the magazine at an elaborate launch party during the spring academic term.
Which writers influenced you the most?
My biggest inspiration was Jane Austen. I discovered Sense and Sensibility on my aunt’s bookshelf in 2006, and then read all six of Austen’s novels over the next two years. I also saw the film Becoming Jane in August 2007, and became fascinated with Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of the famed writer.…
Evans, whose object would have been to draw the biographer’s attention away from the business of being photographed, might have asked Edel to interpret Eliot’s encomium on James: that he had “a mind so fine no idea could penetrate it.”
Edel, distinctly self-conscious, might have laughed this off as modernist hagiography, allowed as how James had plenty of big ideas: Innocence, Europe, Art.…