Paul Grimstad

  • Aria Grande

    I first heard the name Haruki Murakami as an undergraduate in Madison, Wisconsin, when a bandmate handed me a frayed paperback, saying it was “pretty rad Japanese cyberpunk.” The warring cells of Calcutecs and Semiotecs in Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World did seem like they might have come out of early William Gibson, but the book wasn’t really science fiction at all. Sci-fi marvels are usually explained by some ingenious techno-MacGuffin; H. G. Wells’s Time Traveler, to take a canonical example, waves his hands at some glimmering quartz cylinders at the center of his machine to

  • Change Artist

    Fresh from having resigned his pulpit in the Second Unitarian Church, and after briefly considering becoming a botanist, Ralph Waldo Emerson decided to try his hand at philosophy. His 1836 pamphlet, Nature, contains a theory of history, an ethics, a philosophy of language, and an aesthetics. The system, if we can call it that, is a sort of Orphic pantheism. Among its teachings are that nature is a hieroglyph of our minds, that there exists an “occult relation between man and the vegetable,” and that we “expand and live in the warm day, like corn and melons.” The book hits its psychedelic zenith

  • Our Better Nature

    At a moment in history when God is said to participate in world politics, the pungent ode to nature De rerum natura, composed by the Roman poet Titus Lucretius Carus, can provide a dose of sanity. What the atomist Epicurus called ataraxia—the tranquility of mind achieved when one is freed from the fear of occult controllers—Lucretius transformed into a prophetic materialism. His lyric treatise, published in the first century bce, predicts everything from atomic physics to the existence of DNA and casts it all in melodious hexameters.

    Unlike the many prose versions of De rerum natura, David

  • In the Genes

    While ferociously pious, Jonathan Edwards was also way into metaphysics. Thanks to Jeremiah Dummer's gift of five hundred volumes, which began making their way into the Yale library in 1714, the undergraduate Edwards enthusiastically discovered Descartes, Arnauld, Locke, and—most crucially for Joan Richardson's A Natural History of Pragmatism—an edition of Isaac Newton's Opticks (1704), which Edwards read time and time again. From the repetition of Samuel Clarke's Latin translation of Newton's English version of Opticks, Richardson finds etched into Edward's later sermonic rhetoric a prismatic