Category Archives: Books

Christmas`- a Time for Folio Books!

I just received my Christmas catalogue from the Folio Society listing the various offerings the have for Christmas.

Bravo! It got me thinking that a book for Christmas would be a wonderful gift! Check it out!

For the historian, Diamond’s Gun’s Germs and Steel?

For the Sci Fi humorist. The Complete Hitchhiker’s Series by Adams?

For the adventurer, Fleming’s “From Russia with Love”?

For the young scientist, “Longitude”?

For the Foodie, David’s “An Omelette and a Glass of Wine?”

For the lover of fiction, Fitzgerald’s “Tender is the Night“?

You get the idea. Go for it!

 

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Book: The Journal of a Disappointed Man

Western media is full of positive thinking. We are awash in self-help, life planning, creativity enhancement,  engagement tutorials, and so on, that we tend to forget that life is not all a bowl of cherries.

More so, we can easily forget that it is the challenges of life that give it meaning. An easy life, or a life where challenges are ignored, is not an interesting one.

That does not mean that we all should be trudging through steaming jungles, swimming in shark infested waters, or hanging by our fingernails off cliffs. At least as vivid and important are mental and emotional challenges.

For example, if you found out as a young man that your life would be cut short by disease. That is what Bruce Cummings was told by doctors when he was 15 years old. He then started writing a diary to unleash his feelings about himself and life.

Not surprisingly, it is not widely discussed today. There was no miracle cure. Cummings did die young. There was no triumph of spirit. Just death. And yet, the journal is brilliant for its insights into what gives life meaning.

“I am dying,” (Cummings) wrote on 12 October 1917, “but you are already a corpse. You have never really lived … Do you think I would exchange the communion with my own heart for the toy balloons of your silly conversation? … Or my present tawdry life for yours as polished and neat as a new threepenny bit?”

David Bradford has more about this work, penned by Cummings using the pseudonym, Barbellion.

Check it out!

Magical Worlds Await – Philip Pullman’s New Novel

I may not purchase La Belle Sauvage, Philip Pullman’s new book. But I can see why some would go wild for it.

Here is the final bit of a review by Marina Warner that appears in The Guardian

The tension in Pullman between deep attraction to magic and fierce atheistic pragmatism resolves itself into a commitment to art – especially shipshapeliness; this is a properly Romantic attitude. Just as his concept of daemons owes a lot to Coleridge’s ideas about inspiration, and his absolute trust in imagination rings with the hopes and beliefs of Keats and Shelley, so the commitment to the making of things as well as possible in the here and now expresses his faith that a well-made story, like the small, well-trimmed boat that carries the children on their long, dangerous journey, will offer shelter in any storm.

Pullman has fierce artistic vision

His declared aim is to re-enchant life for his readers, young and other, in order to withstand the pleasure-denying forces of political pieties and religious doctrine about sin and damnation.

A true heir to the romantic rebellion!

The World After Kafka

Franz Kafka is usually viewed as a dystopian writer. . But the most interesting aspect of the stories for me is not the nastiness that you find in his stories. It is the reaction by the characters to that nastiness. The discussion of it. The consciousness of it. For the characters there is no escape, they know it, and they talk about their suffering.

More broadly, one could argue that this type of awakening to horror is a part of our modern sensibility.  Perhaps this image by Bacon captures the feeling as well as any

Image result for Bacon Pope

The Pope — supposedly Christ’s representative on earth — is revealed as part of the horror.

What is the horror? It is a shattering of myths. A shattering of the idea that a benevolent force, either God or King or country, has been guiding us to a better future. We woke up to the idea that these myths blinded us to ugly reality. War. Dictatorship. Degradation. Forces that reduced the dignity of man. The title of Robert Graves’s autobiography, written in 1929, “Goodbye to All That” says it all. Humanity may be a dead end species.

More recently, we have a more vivid incarnation of that story line in the film, The Matrix, where humans are not living their lives at all.  They think they are, but in fact, they are just enmeshed in a computer generated simulation.  They exist in tubes of goo, kept alive solely for the electricity their bodies generate.  A few remaining rebels seek to free the rest of humanity from the machines. And at the end of a whole series of movies, it is difficult to tell who won the war, if anyone or anything.

So, is this the end of the line? Having woken up, so to speak, to this type of shattering experience, is there nothing more to say? Are we now without new stories to tell? The current fascination with fantasy based tales suggests to me that some have given up on reality. For them, stories are useful only as escapes from it.  Stories take us to places where we can be part of more epic sagas even if life basically sucks.

I am not persuaded, however, that this will last. A new story line will emerge. And it will be about re-discovering meaning in reality rather than escaping from it. We will find an aligning narrative for the 21st century and it will transcend the consciousness of horrors of the 20th century.

What is it?  What will rekindle our faith in the future – the real future? It is not the gadgets that are falling into our hands. At the end of the day, these are just tools or toys. Our faith in the future will be rekindled form something that comes form inside us.

Stay tuned!

Books: The White King by de Lisle

It is rather odd, I think, that the Tudors are a much bigger draw than the Stuarts. We love hearing again and again how fat Henry VIII was and how clever his daughter Elizabeth was. But we virtually ignore one of the greatest dramas of British history – its civil war that ended with the beheading of a king, Charles I.

And yet, that story is incredible. At the center of it all is the king. What sort of man was he? Consistent with our overall dismissive attitude about the civil war, Charles is considered to be a bit of a dunce – out of touch with reality.

In fact, Charles was not a dunce. He was principled and brave.  In another time, he might have succeeded. But at that particular moment in history, he was doomed.  New forces were at work that would shape the modern world.

Check out “The White King” by de Lisle to get into this story

Image result for The White King de Lisle

Or if you are not persuaded, check out this review by the Seventeenth Century Lady.

Enjoy!

Kundera on Uncertainty and the Novel

From “The Art of the Novel”, some food for thought.

Man desires a world where good and evil can be clearly distinguished, for he has an innate and irrepressible desire to judge before he understands.  Religions and ideologies are founded on this desire. They can cope with the novel only by translating its language of relativity and ambiguity into their own apodictic and dogmatic discourse. They require that someone be right. Either Anna Karenina is the victim of a narrow minded tyrant or Karenin is the victim of an immoral woman; either K is an innocent man crushed by an unjust Court, or the Court represents justice and K is guilty.

Kundera puts this in historical perspective

This “either – or” encapsulates an inability to tolerate the essential relativity of things human, an inability to looks squarely at the absence of the Supreme Judge. This inability makes the novel’s wisdom (the wisdom of uncertainty) hard to accept and understand.

These days, I am afraid, we find that understanding before judging is more difficult than ever. Thus, it is not surprising that our appreciation of the wisdom of uncertainty would be reduced and we value less the work of novelists.

From Kundera’s The Art of the Novel”

One of the great writers of the 20th century lays out his theory of why novels are important. His argument starts this way

In 1935, three years before his death., Edmund Husserl gave his celebrated lectures in Vienna and Prague on the crisis of European humanity.

Hmmm … the timing — not too long before the horrendous second great war — suggests that Husserl may have been onto something. Let’s see what Kundera has to say about this line of thought

For Husserl, the adjective “European” meant the spiritual identity that extends beyond geographical Europe (to America, for instance) and that was born with ancient Greek philosophy. In his view, this philosophy, for the first time in History, apprehended the world as a question to be answered. It interrogated the world not in order to satisfy this or that practical need but because “the passion to know had seized mankind.”

That takes us well beyond the immediate crisis that was about to grip the world in 1939. We are getting into deep water indeed

The crisis Husserl spoke of seemed to him so profound that he wondered whether Europe was still able to survive it.

Wow! The suspense is at a high level. What could be that dangerous?

The roots of the crisis lay for him at the beginning of the Modern Era, in Galileo and Descartes, in the one-sided nature of the European sciences, which reduced the world to a mere object of technical and mathematical investigation and put the concrete world of life, die lebenswelt, as he called it, beyond their horizon.

The rise of the sciences propelled man into the tunnels of specialized disciplines. The more he advanced in knowledge, the less clearly he could see either the world as a whole or his own self, and he plunged further into what Husserl’s pupil Heidegger called in a beautiful almost magical phrase ” the forgetting of being”.

The problem is revealed. We are diminished.

Once elevated by Descartes, to “master and proprietor” of nature, man has now become a mere thing to the forces (of technology, of politics, of history) that bypass him, surpass him, possess him. To those forces, man’s concrete being, his “world of life” (die legenswelt), has neither value nor interest it is eclipsed, forgotten from the start.

You cannot help but admire the scope of Kundera’s thinking and his ability to pitch an idea of such deep importance in such concise terms.

So how do we get beyond this crisis? Read on! There is a possible way out!