Some of the best fun I have had in recent years of reading came in the two hours it took me to read this (including frantic back-tracks and hop-skips) Some of the best fun I have had in recent years of reading came in the two hours it took me to read this (including frantic back-tracks and hop-skips) fantastic book. Time is the hero of this collection and comes veiled in every twisted garb we can conceive, or rather, that Einstein can dream up. Einstein in his mad canter towards discovering the most revolutionary idea in science tumbles right down an imaginary wonderland in this book.
What comes out of the recesses of Einstein's brooding on the nature of time and its relation to our lives is a montage of dreams that stretch our imagination to its limits. Time goes backwards, becomes personal, loops in on itself, slows down and speeds up according to your speeds and even stops altogether in his various dreams. But in the process we also see our own natures reflected in these bizarre behaviors that Einstein (or rather Lightman) subjects our protagonist to.
While each of the 'worlds' are immensely entertaining and thought-provoking, the real crux of the book comes out in the interludes, which are the only times we meet the dreamer - Einstein. The book is an exploration of the twists and turns of the creative process, of the blind alleys and the arcane notions, the tomfoolery and the circus contortions that the creative imagination has to be twisted to before a coherent idea emerges.
Of the dreams, numbering around thirty, some are particularly imaginative while others are variations on earlier themes. At first I was disappointed to encounter these variations and slight modifications, until I realized that Einstein, the dreamer/thinker, has to revisit ideas and try these mutations before he can proceed with them or discard them. Some of the ideas had to be short, some elaborate, some gripping, some boring and some outlandishly silly.
But through it all, the constant feeling, almost magical, of being part of this evolution of thought and of peering into the wildest musings (even if imagined) that led to the conception of time as we know today makes the book a treasure to be revisited and indulged in at every opportunity.
Did I mention that I read the book three times today?...more
Brilliant book. So funny, yet so deeply saddening... this is among the most evocative and life-changing books that I have read. This title still haunt Brilliant book. So funny, yet so deeply saddening... this is among the most evocative and life-changing books that I have read. This title still haunts me and informs a lot of my concerns about the environment and human inaction. ...more
Greenblatt is a good story-teller and delivers good entertainment value here, but not much informative or educational value The Anti-Climactic Swerve
Greenblatt is a good story-teller and delivers good entertainment value here, but not much informative or educational value, except as an enticing short introductory to Lucretius, Bruno and Montaigne.
As Greenblatt acknowledges, there is no single explanation for the emergence of the Renaissance and the release of the forces that have shaped our own world. Despite this awareness, he has tried to trace out The Swerve - “of how the world swerved in a new direction” by telling a little known but exemplary Renaissance story - the story of Poggio Bracciolini’s recovery of Lucretius’s poem, ‘On the Nature of Things’ (De rerum natura). This one poem by itself was certainly not responsible for an entire intellectual, moral, and social transformation—no single work was. But, Greenblatt tells us, this particular ancient book, suddenly returning to view, made a difference.
Majority of the book is given over to the ‘dramatic’ search for old documents, by a Poggio who suddenly found himself with a lot of free time. But, to me, that is not the ‘enlightenment’. The enlightenment is what followed afterwards. Of course, these book-hunters deserve to be lionized for their sacrifice and great service, but they were pursuing an obsession and most of them never played with the ball tossed by the ideas they uncovered.
To me the really exciting part of renaissance is what happened once these millennia old, forgotten, but radical ideas were injected into a culture that was held to the whip by militant power-hungry Christianity — liberating humanity from the crushing weight of being the center of the universe, the human mind from the chains of the fear of a future torment that is bound to follow any original thought (original = blasphemous).
That is when the real alchemy happened - when different brilliant thinkers tried hard to reconcile their fervent theology to the irresistible intellectual and poetic force of the ancient arguments; when the few truly free thinkers found the best sort of patrons, the ancients, to support their cause; and when all these elements reacted against each other and created something new and wonderful - just like Lucretius’s reviled atoms.
That is the truly exciting story. That is only touched on by Greenblatt, after spending 4/5th of the book on Poggio’s quest, then towards the end, we are given a sneak peak on how various thinkers reacted, of the spectacular beauty of a larger cultural movement that included Alberti, Michelangelo, and Raphael, Ariosto, Montaigne, and Cervantes, along with dozens of other artists and writers. Some of the ideas touched upon include (in loosely chronological fashion, listed here to redeem the book by highlighting the best parts):
- Lorenzo Valla’s early reaction through On Pleasure (De voluptate), an early, highly noncommittal dialogue dealing with the Epicurean ideas.
- Thomas More’s Utopia - which tried very hard to integrate the Epicurean ideas into a society of equality and communism, even as Moore kept them grounded on firm Christian principles.
- The diminutive Dominican monk, Giordano Bruno, who was turned into one of the boldest thinkers on the touch of Lucretius’s poetry. Bruno was perhaps the first real intellectual successor to Epicurus and Lucretius, the one who truly took the ball and ran the full distance and dared to assert a new and dangerous world view (Bruno is only one example of much intellectual activity that erupted, out of which most kept silent, unlike Bruno).
- Machiavelli’s formulations, which could arguably be said to have touched the feared extremes of the philosophy.
- Copernicus, and others, who got support from all this intellectual ferment to explore new boundaries and push human understanding.
- Others like Galileo, who could then go further, even if timidly.
- To pave the way for Descartes, Newton… and so on and so forth, the illustrious list extends to our day.
And even in the arts, the explosion was evident, with Cosimo, Da Vinci, Botticelli, etc., to Montaigne and others, and soon through Bruno’s visit to England, Spencer, Donne, Bacon, and eventually Shakespeare (who was a friend of a friend of Bruno’s!) and Ben Johnson (who had a copy of Lucretius). Soon, the printing press made these irresistible ideas even more irrepressible, until they were everywhere, just like the original atoms. Until, through Jefferson, traces of Epicureanism was embedded in the very constitution of the next great democracy that emerged, in the Declaration of Independence - The Pursuit of Happiness.
How splendid would that intellectual history be, if presented in its full richness and anxiety, with all the various threads and many tensions given stage space!
I know there are other books that explore this explosion and the dance of magnificent ideas, but I really felt let down that the story closed just before the drama began. Bit of an anti-climax. This richly researched biography of probably the most important book-hunter in history is not a must-read or an indispensable book. The best result would be an increased curiosity for the great works that enliven its pages....more
Even the most gloomy predictors of the book’s demise have softened their forecasts. Nicholas Carr, who The Economist Reports on The Future of The Book:
Even the most gloomy predictors of the book’s demise have softened their forecasts. Nicholas Carr, whose book “The Shallows” predicted in 2011 that the internet would leave its ever-more-eager users dumb and distracted, admits people have hung onto their books unexpectedly, because they crave immersive experiences.
Books may face more competition for audiences’ time, rather as the radio had to rethink what it could do best when films and television came along; the habit of reading for pleasure has fallen slightly in the past few years. But it has not dropped off steeply, as many predicted. The length and ambition of a bestseller such as Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch”—864 pages in paperback—shows that people still tackle big books.
It is a good thing that Dawkins himself takes the trouble to think about which chapters of his books will be of vanishing interest in the near future.It is a good thing that Dawkins himself takes the trouble to think about which chapters of his books will be of vanishing interest in the near future. Of course, he turned out to be more accurate than he must have wished for. This must be the most boring of all Dawkins’ books, but I do not want to give up on him till I read ‘The Extended Phenotype’ which just might prove to be the best (scientifically) of all his works. With whole chapters devoted to the driest taxonomy problems and to disproving outdated theories, the book was a massive waste of time once I went past the mildly interesting first half. But, it still provides an opportunity to use Dawkins’ own method of caricature-based argument to paint a caricature of his own positions in ‘The God Delusion’ based on his own vitriolic stands in this book. I will try to examine in detail how Dawkins has betrayed his own principles of scientific grounding and rational rigorousness in The God Delusion by using arguments and structures from this book in the review. Hopefully that will happen by tomorrow...
Tennyson is famously to have declared Shakespeare 'greater in his sonnets than in his plays'. While the reader who might not soar as easily along the paths described by these Sonnets would find the comparison absurd to a degree, he/she would also have to admit that they understand the sentiment behind Tennyson’s blasphemy. Some of the sonnets are so well-crafted and consists of such unexpected imagery that they can leave one breathless at their majesty and imagination. Indeed, some of them are eloquent and eternal invocations of love at par with the best love poetry - just as his romances and tragedies that outrage conventions are the best in their genres!
Even when he departed from most conventional expectations of poetry, Shakespeare was still able to leave his imprint on the very sonnet form itself. That should tell us how important these sonnets really are to literature. The form is now called ‘Shakespearean Sonnets’, and to do that centuries past the invention of the sonnets as a form is also an achievement that defies imagination.
The Chatter of the Critics
Now we come to the depressing aspect: critical discussion on these, some of the best love poetry in the language, unfortunately centers more on historical speculation than on philosophical or aesthetic appreciation.
Most of the introductions and critical commentary that accompany the sonnets focus on a biographical excavatory project, mining the sonnets for information, leaving behind tired mounts in their wake. Scholarship have been tragically been too sidetracked on this issue - away from the heart of poetry to its scholarly peripheries where readers might not want to accompany them.
I wish some of these elaborate commentaries and footnotes that accompany almost every word of these sonnets were focussed instead on how the poems should be interpreted personally by the reader! Imagine if all poems were disassociated from the reader and read purely from a historical perspective of the author’s love-life or forensically on figuring out who it was addressed to - poetry would lose much of its universality!
The problem is that we know so little biographic detail of Shakespeare and the Sonnets provide a tantalizing prospect to scholars. The question ‘when, and to whom was this written?’ is one which the poems repeatedly invite their readers to pose, and which they quite deliberately fail to answer. Of course he may not even have wanted his sonnets to be printed; there was, after all, an interval of approximately fifteen years between composition and publication, which makes the sonnet’s poet an unreliable narrator at best - we have no clue what the sonnets were intended for. And speculations/recreations of the ‘Drama of the Sonnets’ have shown almost as much inventiveness as we might expect in Shakespeare himself!
Were they select poems sent to a single lover? Are they a collection of poems sent to many lovers, subject changing with each sonnet? Were they compositions made to amuse his friends or visitors, to impress them with his mastery? Were they lonely exercises of genius, indulged on to pass the time of the depressing Plague years? We really do not know. And knowing nothing, we still prefer to stumble about and tarnish the beauty of the poetry by wild surmises!
That is tragic.
As I said, the sonnets are tantalizing and they keep teasing the reader to make meaning out of them. At times they seem to build up a body of recurrent structures and preoccupations, and even a narrative of sorts, even shaping itself around possibly real events. And then it seems not to. A story converges from the lyrics, and then it vanishes. Instead, the reader should accept that the sonnets are so heavily patterned that almost any form could be seen in it - they are like the clouds, you only need to have enough enthusiasm and imagination to mould them to yourselves.
Through all this however, and throughout, the ‘voices’ of the Sonnets appear in all their intricacy and dramatic power, resisting any simple reading. Shakespeare begins his sonnets by introducing four of his most important themes - immortality, time, procreation, and selfishness and then plays them off against each other:
Sonnets of abject praise generate undertones of irony and criticism; Sonnets of abject depression generate undertones of hope and eternity; Sonnets of worldly criticism generate undertones of the exalted nature of poetry; Sonnets singing boasts about the power of poetry generate undertones of fear of mortality - the variations are endless and exhilarating.
Exit The Cave
There is an introductory essay called ‘The Cave and The Sun’ in the Dover-Wilson edition of the Sonnets, of which I read only the introduction since I wanted to stick to my Arden edition which had better and more detailed footnotes (with very useful headnotes accompanying each sonnet and sonnet sequence - highly recommended). I found the metaphor employed and the advice given by Wilson to the raiders to be very relevant to my own reading experience. I want to discuss it a bit here, even though Wilson went on to disappoint me by not sticking to his own prescriptions on how the sonnets should be read and critiqued.
Sir Walter Raleigh, who wrote the most human short life of William Shakespeare that we possess, began his section on the Sonnets as follows:
'There are many footprints around the cave of this mystery, none of them pointing in the outward direction. No one has ever attempted a solution of the problem without leaving a book behind him; and the shrine of Shakespeare is thickly hung with these votive offerings, all withered and dusty.'
Wilson adopts this metaphor and elaborates: Raleigh’s cave of mystery calls another to mind, Plato's cave of illusion, in which the human race sit chained with their backs to the sun without, and are condemned to accept the passing shadows on the wall before them for the truth—the real truth being only revealed to the few who are able to break their bonds and turn to face the light of day. Absorbed in our own attempts to solve the biographical puzzles that the individual sonnets offer us, we remain blind to the sun that casts these shadows but gives meaning to the whole.
Begin by seeing that meaning and recognizing the whole as the greatest love-poem in the language, and the mystery of the detail becomes so unimportant as to fade away.
That this is the right approach to an understanding, apparently so obvious and so natural, is surely beyond contest? At least to me it is.
The Philosophy Vs The Biography
Coming back to the sonnets themselves, one of the continuous experiences that enthrall the reader is to see how the sonnets keeps defying expectations and conventions. For example, neither the exhortation to love and ‘settle down’, the love for the young man, nor the passion for the 'dark woman' are subjects an ambitious poet would be likely to choose as the most suitable to display the genius of his verse.
They instead form testimony to Shakespeare’s overriding powers of imagination.
Peter Ackroyd, in his biography of Shakespeare, speculates that Shakespeare experimented and stretched the sonnet form to its breaking point - perhaps because he was bored of poetry, which came too easy to him.
When we consider the repetition of themes and the easy show-offiness of how Shakespeare uses the Sonnets to tell the same things again and again, but always with consummate expertise and ease, it is hard to dismiss the idea.
This might be reflected in the fact that so many of the Sonnets are overly megalomaniacal about the power of his verse, boasting of the defeat of time and the acquisition/granting of immortality.
But even as these exalt us, even while we may be in awe at the overwhelming force of Shakespeare’s imagination, we would also be melancholy at the theme of relentless failure expressed in the poems, over and over, dealing with self-deception and betrayal; with the inadequacy of the mind, or the imagination, or poetry, to have any effect, even on the poet’s own feelings.
This is how Shakespeare continually inverts the themes and explores them from multiple angles. When he praises the ennobling qualities of love in one Sonnet, he might make it about love's insecurities and dark aspects later, either in the same sonnet by employing the structural ‘turn’ or in a linked sonnet later on in the sequence.
All this might make the reader feel out of sorts and uneasy. It is as if the conversation jumped from topic to topic in a broken-backed fashion. At times affectionate and intimate, at times abject and distant; but nothing clicks tight, no overall theme emerges. The poet of the Sonnets veers back and forth from the dream of omnipotence to the dread of mortality and impending loss, continuously in flux.
Even the conclusion of this is almost wistful, a testimony to the ultimate powerlessness of the art that has been so hyperbolically praised, but at the same time leaving it hanging in mid-air, since we do not really know if these 'concluding' sonnets are really the conclusion, or if they were ordered right, or if Shakespeare intended to contrast the theme of the 'concluding' couple of sonnets by another soaring portrayal of Cupid reasserting himself. Again, we can only speculate.
Reading the Sonnets is a particularly rewarding (and time consuming) exercise due to these delightful perversities of history and of the poet’s pen.
Thus the reader would conclude the reading of the Sonnets with a strong sense that the emotions expressed in them refuses to fit into pigeon-holes that we/critics may have constructed for them.
Individually most of the sonnets are creatures of infinite beauty but also bewildering due to their contrasting colors, and when we read the whole sequence as one, we might experience them differently. As one of the critics say, from its total plot, however ambiguous, however particular, there emerges something not indeed common or general like the love expressed in many individual sonnets, but yet, in a higher way, universal. While this is indeed true, we again lack the tools or the certainty to convert the individual sonnets into a ‘plot’ - we might try to understand a ‘philosophy’ of love and life from these meditations, but to hunt for a plot among them can only take away from the pleasure and the true experience of it.
To me at least, the conclusion was that to relentlessly attribute autobiographical aims to the sonnets is to not give due credit to the imaginative genius of Shakespeare and impute that he was incapable of inventing such realistic emotions with his poetic person than he was able to achieve with his dramatic one. Why credit only the dramatic author to be capable of this imaginative creativity and not the poet? I think it is only desperation that forces this on us.
We should accept that the author-character that emerges from the sonnets is not created for our convenience. It is not necessarily William Shakespeare, the man; it is William Shakespeare, the poet.
A rat crept softly through the vegetation; departed. A cold blast at the back, So rudely forc'd, like Philomela. It was Tiresias', it was he who doomed all men, throbbing between two lives, knowing which?
Et O ces voix d'enfants, chantant dans la coupole! Excuse my demotic French!
Let us go then, him (that carbuncular young man), and you - In a minute there is time For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
You may come or go, but speak not of Michelangelo.
When there is not solitude even in the Mountains, When even the sound of water could dry your thirst, Then you can lift your hands and sing of dead pine trees.
Have you yet been led, through paths of insidious intent, through every tedious argument, To that overwhelming question?
Gentile or Jew O you who turn the wheel and look to windward, Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.
Sweet Thames, sweating oil and tar, Sweet Thames, run on softly till I end my song, for I speak not loud or long, for I speak not clear or clean, for I speak in the hoarse whispers of the last man, for it was I who murdered you, and Ganga, right under the nose, of mighty Himavant!
You who were living is now dead. We who were living are now dying - With a little patience!
Break The Bough, and hang yourself from it, Sweeney, Prufrock, The Fisher King and the sterile others, all will follow first, like corpses etherised on well-lit tables.
Remember me, me - Tiresias, once more, for we are all him, yet not.
The present will always look at the mirror, and see only a Wasteland, The Past is always the heavenly spring, running dry now.
Perspective, Thy name is Poetry.
London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down These fragments you have shored against my ruins.
I demand that this be made a top priority, instead of spending millions trashing good books by making movies of them.
The coolest thing about Beowulf was the tracing of Tolkien's imaginative journey as I read it. Maybe someday I would like to write a short review story on the morphing of Beowulf into a hobbit......more
As I went through the book I was unable to make up my mind whether it was a work on philosophy masquerading as a self-help book to reach a wide audien As I went through the book I was unable to make up my mind whether it was a work on philosophy masquerading as a self-help book to reach a wide audience or if it was a pretentious self-help book with aspirations to be a book on deep philosophy.
Even after I finished it, I am not sure how to judge it. Should I judge it harshly for picking and choosing among the works of these great philosophers to fit them into the narrow framework that Botton has drawn for them and thus making them draw his yoke? Or should I be lenient that Botton makes lofty thoughts so accessible by dragging them down and tethering them to the normal privations of men and offering consolations for the same?
The title is of course a brilliant one and almost irresistible. Not original maybe, as Boethius has already used it, but Boethius' was a private consolation with his own philosophy (personified as a woman) while Botton offers up his philosopher's thoughts for a public audience for his reader's consolation. I am no judge on which was the more effective work as I am yet to read the original work.
As for the book itself, Botton tries hard to make it entertaining and relevant and uses almost a bullet-point like efficiency to ensure that he can pack everything into an 'airport size' book.
The framework of the book is to use the wisdom of six philosophers, almost in chronological order, to offer consolations for some of the common maladies that afflict the average person. The fact that he spends more time and pages detailing out the lives of the philosophers should not deter from the fact that he does manage to stick admirably to the overall structure of the book and does offer a coherent sequence and logic of 'consolations'.
Consolation For Unpopularity
Botton uses the example and philosophy of Socrates and his life to illustrate that the judgement of others should have no real bearing on how we judge ourselves. This is not to say that we should count ourselves superior by being in the minority. No, the real message is that the weight of numbers supporting any argument or moral standpoint has nothing to do with the real strength of that position. Only reason should guide us in our judgements of ourselves and of others. In the hatred unfairly directed towards an innocent philosopher we recognize an echo of the hurt we ourselves encounter at the hands of those who are either unable or unwilling to do us justice. But if your reason tells us we are right, we should stick to our beliefs and we might be redeemed as Socrates was by the very people who condemned him and be consoled by the prospect of posterity's verdict.
Consolation For Not Having Enough Money
What is wealth? Is it mere material wealth or is it anything that provides us real happiness? These were the questions that Epicurus grappled with. His answer was that just as we are not capable of judging what is good for our physical body and would gladly gorge ourselves with unhealthy food to the point of death (as a lot of us do). so we are not capable of judging what is truly good for our souls, for our life.
I want to belabor this point - If left to ourselves and our instinctive tastes, we would find no reason to refrain from consuming as much as we can of everything that tastes good and this only leads to a decay in bodily health. It takes an expert opinion and self-control to be able to give up this unhealthy habit and adopt a moderate and healthy diet that allows us much better health.
Epicurus says that we similarly gorge on money and all the other pleasurable thing sin life and jump head long into the rat race thinking that is important. But only deep reflection can show us that it is a bad for our spiritual well-being and health as all that good food is for our bodily health.
So he says pleasure is the ultimate goal of life - but what gives you true pleasure can only be found by deep reflection. So what should we dedicate all our energies to if we want a happy life?
We should find Friendship, good companionship - association with people who recognize our true nature with all our defects is what we really need. in fact all our mad scramble after money and power is just a manifestation of our need to be esteemed and listened to by our fellow beings. We may seek a fortune for no reason but to secure the respect and attention of people who would otherwise look straight through us. But do we need money to get them to respect us? Would not a true friend value every word of yours and respect you even if you were penniless?
The second most important constituent of happiness is Freedom - the freedom to be ourselves. This eventually connects back to being with people who will accept us as us. Epicurus and his friends made a radical innovation. In order not to have to work for people they didn't like and answer to potentially humiliating whims, they removed themselves from employment in the commercial world of Athens ('We must free ourselves from the prison of everyday affairs and polities'), and began what could best have been described as a commune, accepting a simpler way of life in exchange for independence. They would have less money but would never again have to follow the commands of odious superiors.
Simplicity did not affect the friends' sense of status because, by distancing themselves from the values of Athens, they had ceased to judge themselves on a material basis. There was no need to be embarrassed by bare walls, and no benefit in showing off gold. Among a group of friends living outside the political and economic centre of the city, there was - in the financial sense - nothing to prove.
So, Happiness, an acquisition list: 1. A hut 2. Friends 3. To avoid superiors, patronization, infighting and competition 4. Thought 5. Art.
Happiness may indeed be difficult to attain. The obstacles are not primarily financial.
Consolation For Frustration
All frustration arises from a faulty view of the world says Lucius Annaeus Seneca. We are frustrated because we expect the world to behave in a particular way and then reality turns out to be different. the Great Stoic philosopher advises us to be always aware that the worst scenario is always possible and to be prepared for it so that when it does happen we are ready for it and will not descend into anger, shock, anxiety or despair, all of which are marks of an unprepared mind that was not in tune with reality. Correct your worldview to accept the fact that reality is cruel and thus find escape from these common frustrations. This does not mean that you should accept everything, you may struggle mightily to avoid the misfortune but you just need to be aware of its possibility to be not prey to anger, grief and other frustrations.
Consolation For Inadequacy
Michel de Montaigne consoles us about the ultimately human nature of us all. We have to accept that we are not perfect, no one ever was. Once we accept that every inadequacy we find so appalling in ourselves is shared by millions and is one of the side effects of being human and being alive, we will learn to be less embarrassed by them and can live a more fulfilling life.
Consolation For Heartbreak
The nerve to invoke the greatest pessimist of the western world to console heartbroken young Werthers!
But it is Arthur Schopenhauer who is being called upon to give advice on how to deal with rejection and broken love affairs. Schopenhauer's famous 'will to life' theory which modern readers might as well read as a sort of natural selection through conditioned unconscious eugenics states that we are controlled in who we find attractive and lovable by a great force of nature which is concerned only with the need to propagate the species. It is not concerned with our happiness and more often than not we will end up with people who are our anti-thesis and inconducive to our happiness. So a happy marriage is a statistical anomaly and unnatural rather than something we can naturally expect.
So, if and when you find yourself a Young Werther with a broken heart or a girl for that matter, understand that it is not you who were rejected but it was just that the union was not approved by the good of the species by the 'will to power' or natural selection. This might sound like an artificial explanation but think about it, please, it is all just genetics.
Consolation For Difficulties
Finally Friedrich Nietzsche makes his grand entry and gives The Ultimate Consolation - You do not need consolations in life!
All life's difficulties are to be embraced. So accept your unpopularity, poverty, inadequacy, frustrations, heart-breaks and every sorrow as necessary to become the best you can be. If you do not have these difficulties you will be a mindless creature without knowledge of life. Use all this grief and the ills of life to forge a character and life that is noble and grand.
Your greatest gifts are your difficulties.
Disclaimer: I have modified the views expressed in this review from that in the book to match my own understanding of these philosophers at times (especially for Nietzsche). At other times I have reproduced the core message of the book without modification. I have not distinguished the two as the original works of all these great minds are always available to anyone who finds any disparity between this review and their own convictions. I have done justice neither to this book nor to the philosophers in this review and would ask you to pursue them further if you find it interesting. I will try to do a comprehensive review of Will Durant's The Story of Philosophy as a counterpoint to this simplistic interpretation of multi-faceted thoughts....more
"The Hindus criticise the Mahomedans for having spread their religion by the use of the sword. They also ridicule Christianity on the score of the Inquisition.
But really speaking, who is better and more worthy of our respect—the Mahomedans and Christians who attempted to thrust down the throats of unwilling persons what they regarded as necessary for their salvation, or the Hindu who would not spread the light, who would endeavour to keep others in darkness, who would not consent to share his intellectual and social inheritance with those who are ready and willing to make it a part of their own make-up?
I have no hesitation in saying that if the Mahomedan has been cruel, the Hindu has been mean; and meanness is worse than cruelty."
Response (Professor X):What is worse? A. Use force to make others join your faith B. Use force to keep out of those who want to join your faith
Me: an additional dimension is there: you keep them out and then you discriminate and degrade based on religion.
Professor X: I wanted to strip the discussion of dalit angle, but, YES, this has got me thinking.
Me: ah. okay. wouldn't majority of early religions (tribal) been exclusivist? missionary religions were probably an innovation. which is the more natural tendency? need to study more :)
Professor X: No. This man has hit the nail on the head. Hinduism is the only one that opted to have exclusion as a theme and that, I suspect, because there was no occupation effort.
The same religion in south east asia saw the need to absorb locals in :)
Me: Ambedkar claims elsewhere that early Hinduism was an evangelizing religion and that once caste and varna systems were hardened, it had to stop being one.
if a religion obsessed with purity starts absorbing, it will also try to exclude at the same time. this will have to give rise to a varna and then even a caste system as more and more walls are erected for more and more minute exclusions. eventually the evangelizing had to stop and thus occupation. that is the chain of causation i glean from reading ambedkar, not the other ay round. what say?
now, if i assume that tribal religions are exclusivist and accept this line of reasoning, it would seem to imply that religions once they pass a critical mass, will become missionary in nature (religion and politics going together). however if they do not reinvent themselves to lose completely their exclusivist tendencies (as happened with islam etc), then they will eventually reach another critical mass when they harden and cant expand anymore. with that both religious evangelism and political expansion will end. [simplistic, i know. but seems to make some sense to me...]
Me: btw, Hinduism is not the only such religion. there are other religions too that are exclusivist. a good example to prop up my case would be Judaism, a more or less tribal religion which probably never reached the first critical mass point. Judaism discourages missionary activities and maintains an exclusivist doctrine, again based on purity of the chosen people.
we could say that Judaism once it came close to the first critical mass reinvented itself as Christianity - an evangelist religion but with no exclusivist tendencies - and hence it didnt have to hit the second point. could spread and spread :) islam too - another variation of the same theme.
Does this seem like a useful line of enquiry? Are there any books that explore the tendencies of religions? Would love to read a few....more