Saturday, September 30, 2017
Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Rosemary’s Baby is a meditation on the social power dynamics embedded in our culture. It is a novel not only about the treatment of women at the hands of a powerful Patriarchy, but also an account of the price exacted on the young by the elderly in return for the transferal of power to members of a new generation.
As a young couple, Guy and Rosemary have no power and, relative to Guy, Rosemary has even less power. She doesnt even have power over her own sexual and reproductive drives. But Guy uses his youth and his access to Rosemary to broker a deal with the Satanists, or power brokers, and in the novels final scene, Rosemary does the same. This is the same deal that is offered to all of us at one point or another in our lives. You can be independent or you can have access to the money and power accumulated by previous generations.
Idealism gives way to compromise as it inevitably must.
Rosemary’s Baby is about making a deal with the devil in the most generic sense of the phrase, but what its really about is the compromises we make and the values we ignore in order to make our ways in the world.
Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
The question is not whether God exists. The question is whether we concern ourselves with it or are utterly indifferent to it. So the problem becomes one of not religion per say, but one of religious tribalism.
This book is an attack, not on faith, but on a system of superstition and a belief in magic and the childish notion of an anthropomorphic God that is characteristic of the tribe. Harris calls this religion, but many do not.
The biggest problem we face isn’t religious extremism, it’s actually the same problem that many religions attempt to address, how do we find meaning in an otherwise meaningless world? Or better yet, how do we transcend what it means to be human? Because only when we can find transcendence can we also find peace.
Wednesday, September 27, 2017
Sunday, September 17, 2017
Under the Skin by Michel Faber
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Under the Skin bears remarkable affinities with The Island of Dr. Moreau in the sense that, in both, metamorphoses are effected by surgery as opposed to magic. Both texts are also interested in how altered bodies move backwards and forwards across the boundary between human and the nonhuman animal and how physical alterations can effect psychological states.
It’s also about floundering in the world during our brief lifetime, trying to understand it, and then being mercilessly crushed by it. Meanwhile, we only manage to hurt others along the way without fully understanding our actions, and in the midst of finally beginning to understand those actions and our place in the world, we're snuffed out like a candle in a high wind.
The meaning that I ferreted out of Under the Skin, possibly against its will, and possibly even my own, is that trying to understand things from someone else’s perspective, and trying to be compassionate, can ultimately destroy your own sense of self.
Sunday, September 10, 2017
Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Black Like Me is a well-intentioned book but also a hopelessly anachronistic one.
Today the idea of a white man darkening his skin to speak on behalf of black people might appear patronising, offensive and even a little comical. You really expect me to believe that no one noticed that he was just a 39 year old white man with oddly dark skin?
I am astonished that this book is often described as a great piece of anthropology and I strongly suspect that at least part of Griffin's story is phony. There are too many miracles, too many gaps, too many unexplained coincidences, and too many places where sentiment is used where facts would have been more helpful.
I'm also not convinced that every instance of racism he describes can actually be ascribed to racism. Taking on a "black" persona, he was seeing things through the prism of color and I think it was distorting his perceptions of reality, so much so that every instance of rudeness is ascribed to racism first, without ever considering the fact that maybe the other person is just an asshole. He also never once questions the conception of his project, and fails to confront the possibility that maybe casting yourself as a "white savior" would be inherently racist in and of itself.
Nevertheless, in a world with no heroes, we need to take what we can get.
Sunday, September 3, 2017
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A great collection of essays by one of Americas pre-eminent humorists. They read like journal entries, if those journal entries happened to have been written by a cabbage patch doll come to life with the disembodied spirit of Woody Allen and then subsequently went through puberty.
Adultery by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Marriage and family are often regarded as the basis of society and a story about adultery often shows the conflict between social pressure and the individual struggle for happiness.
However the real crux of the story is enlivened I think with a reference to the dilemma of intimacy exemplified by an allegory about porcupines popularized by the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer: when the animals draw close in the cold for warmth, they prick each other, yet when they move apart, they shiver.
Schopenhauer, and later Sigmund Freud, have both used this allegory as a way to describe what they feel is the state of the individual in relation to others in society. The hedgehog's dilemma suggests that despite goodwill, human intimacy cannot occur without substantial mutual harm, and what results is cautious behavior and weak relationships.
Saturday, September 2, 2017
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A biography of a body. What has been done to it and what continues to be done to it.
The author hates being human in a sense. She laments having an animal body that stinks, sweats, accumulates fat, which can be assaulted, and more importantly can be seen as an "object" to others. But we are nothing more than our bodies and everyone's body, as a matter of fact, is a matter of public record.
We are bodies moving through space and having a body means we can be seen, which is always going to be traumatic.
Sartre refers to The Look as the first step towards apprehending “the Other”, and thereby the self. He says “I see myself because somebody sees me . . .” and “It is shame or pride which reveals to me the Other’s look, and myself at the end of that look. It is the shame or pride which makes me live . . .”
There's no escaping the gaze of others.
And that's the real problem isn't it, how to keep the gaze of others from objectifying us? It's everyone's problem really, not just the authors and certainly not just the problem of the obese, even though they may experience it more acutely.