Tuesday, November 30, 2004

"The Sea is not less beautiful..." is a real quote

The "famous Jewish philosopher" on p. 187 of the novel "The sea is not less beautiful for our knowledge that ships are wrecked on it."

You can find it here for instance: Simone Weil on affliction, necessity, and waiting for God. Scan down a few paragraphs...

It's weird that Wood calls her a Jew, because she is basically a Christian (read the link above, you'll see what I mean). The one saving, er, grace, is that she is of Jewish descent.

The poem Peter recites to Tom

Curious about the source of the poem Peter recites to Tom in fragments (224), I looked it up online. Titled "Peace," it is by seventeenth century poet Henry Vaughan (1622-1695), and it has often been set to music as a choral hymn. The full text is below:

My soul, there is a country
Far beyond the stars,where stands a winged sentry
All skillful in the wars.
There above noise, and danger,
Sweet Peace sits crowned with smiles,
And One, born in a manger
Commands the beauteous files.

He is thy gracious Friend,
And - O my soul, awake!
-did in pure love descend,to die here for thy sake.
If thou canst get but thither,
There grows the flower of Peace,t
The Rose that cannot wither,
Thy fortress and thy ease.

Leave then thy foolish ranges,
For none can thee secure
But One who never changes,
Thy God, thy life, thy cure.

Henry Vaughan (1622-95)

Monday, November 29, 2004

Puzzling over latest James Wood book review

James Wood reviews a new novel called Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.

It's a novel about religion in 19th century America, and may be of interest to people who are interested in early American lit and historical fiction.

Most of the review is praise of Robinson's writing of one sort or another. It gets interesting when Wood tries to distinguish Robinson's style from that of "secular fiction":

In ordinary, secular fiction, a writer who ''takes things down to essentials'' is reducing language to increase the amount of secular meaning (or sometimes, alas, to decrease it). When Robinson reduces her language, it's because secular meaning has exhausted itself and is being renovated by religious meaning. Robinson, who loves Melville and Emerson, cannot rid herself of the religious habit of using metaphor as a form of revelation. Ames spends much time musing on the question of what heaven will be like. Surely, he thinks, it will be a changed place, yet one in which we can still remember our life on earth: "In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets." There sings a true Melvillean note.

I'm not sure whether Wood likes this kind of writing (i.e., writing which is "renovated by religious meaning") or not. Perhaps one will need to read the novel to get a better sense of what Robinson is after?

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Book Against God and Unamuno

The discussion in class regarding how the religion of the narrator’s priestly father is more about being the glue that holds the village community together than about hard belief versus unbelief reminded me of a novella by the Spanish writer and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno called San Manuel Bueno, mártir. That story deals with a village priest who can’t believe in God or an afterlife (if I remember correctly) but hides his lack of faith from the majority of the villagers in order, well, not to make them miserable and who also acts as the glue that holds a village community together. Here is an English translation of the novella; it’s not too long.


I suppose Unamuno can be considered another modernist who came up with his own particular version of spirituality or faith, built around the idea that everyone longs for immortality. He goes into it in his Tragic Sense of Life. This long bit deals with Unamuno's take on things.


As far as I know, he’s kind of considered a Spanish existentialist and has an interesting relationship to Kierkegaard. Plus, he generally seems to have been a better person than your average postmodernist.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Book Against God Gripe

Am I the only one who found the descriptions of the narrator and Jane's marriage and of the popping of the marriage question to be particularly nauseating and squirm-inducing? They seem like they've been ripped straight out of some nauseating Hugh Grant romantic comedy. And that's just bad.

Of course, maybe Wood intended those parts in particular to produce that reaction.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Pakistani film imagines assasination of Rushdie

Unbelievable. In 1990, the Pakistani film industry released a film called "International Gorillay," (International Gorillas), in which a trio of heroic crusaders plot to assasinate a Rushdie-like villain. The film was, until recently, banned from British television.

If you follow the link, you end up at a site where you can view a scene from the film.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The crazy French guy: Georges Bataille, Postmodernism, and The Satanic Verses

Today's discussion regarding the possible extreme applications of post-modernism (for example, that one person’s pain would be another person’s pleasure and thus there can be no compassion in the world) reminded me a lot of a course I took three years ago in contemporary rhetoric. That semester, we studied George Bataille, who, at the time, I referred to as the crazy French guy because reading his translated works was driving me bonkers.

Anyway, I didn’t have time to go back and pull a lot of information on him from my notes but I did find some interesting quotes from "The Bataille Reader" (edited by Fred Botting and Scott Wilson, Blackwell Publishers, 1997) that seemed, scarily, to fit very well into our discussions of "The Satanic Verses." If anyone is interested in reading more from the book, I can loan you my copy.

I also came across some websites that provide more detailed information. But I want to give fair warning to anyone with a squeamish stomach: this guy was pretty extreme and some of the pictures on the sites can be disturbing. Definitely NOT for children.

As one of the websites below suggests, Bataille is a very difficult philosopher (?) to summarize and there is an inherent danger in taking quotes out of context like I am about to do. Still, I thought it would help to give just a flavor of his ideas. All of the following quotes are taken from the chapter labeled 'Torment in "The Bataille Reader," which presents material published in English in "Inner Experience" (1988) and originally in French as "Le Supplice" in 1947.
- “To face the impossible—exorbitant, indubitable—when nothing is possible any longer is in my eyes to have an experience of the divine; it is analogous to a torment” (page 64).
- “it is necessary for me to die (in my own eyes) to give birth to myself” (pages 64-65).
- “We cannot be without end that which we are: words canceling each other out, at the same time as resolute non-entities, believing ourselves to be the foundation of the world” (page 65).
- “My conduct with my friends is motivated: each being is, I believe, incapable of his own, of going to the end of being. If he tries, he is submerged within a ‘private being’ which has meaning only for himself. Now there is no meaning for a lone individual: being alone would of itself reject the ‘private being’ if it saw it as such…” (pages 72-72).

Here are some web addresses (sorry they don’t actually link—Blogger doesn’t seem to like my browser and doesn’t give me all of the options):

Fairly straight-forward biographical site:

Comprehensive dialogue regarding the basics of Bataille:

Warning: This last site is not for the faint of heart. It contains some rather explicit images of the pain/ecstasy principle advanced by Bataille. This is the very picture I stumbled across three years ago when I first encountered Bataille. It still makes my stomach turn. AGAIN, this is NOT for children.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Opera version of Rushdie's "Haroun" now in New York

Salman Rushdie wrote a children's novel called Haroun and the Sea of Stories while he was in hiding, after the Ayatollah Khomeini's Fatwa against him.

That story has been made into an opera that is now playing in New York City. The New York Times has a story on it.