This impressive and fascinating book is an extremely important contribution to our understanding of Tibetan religious culture, practice, and history.This impressive and fascinating book is an extremely important contribution to our understanding of Tibetan religious culture, practice, and history. To my knowledge, it provides the first book-length treatment of the vital topic of violent imagery in the Tibetan religious imagination, which is in itself extremely odd, given the centrality it occupies in iconography and practice.
It is perhaps a sign of our own ambivalence in treating this topic, and perhaps indicative of the delicacies and complexities of how Tibetan culture has been re-conceptualized in the west in past decades, with focus dwelling far more attentively on the philosophical sophistication of Tibetan tenets and the centrality of Tibetan emphasis on generating compassion, possibly tinged with embarrassment for previous generations' vision of "Lamaism" as a degenerate form of Buddhism contaminated with native shamanistic practices.
Dalton persuasively establishes that this same concern, that Tibetan tantric practice was overrun by non-Buddhist demonolatry, has been a key part of Tibet's own religious and social self-critique for over a thousand years, presenting at various points in Tibetan history an ideological justification for the suppression of marginal sects or legitimating various centralized monastic institutions, which were regarded as a civilizing power necessary to contain the wild, autochthonous indigenous tendency toward violent and bestial rites. Under this aegis, for example, the Tibetan monarch Yeshe Ö re-established a centralized Tibetan hegemony after the period of fragmentation known by many today as the Tibetan "dark age."
The mythological root of this pattern of violently ordering and pacifying powerful and diabolical energies ultimately lay in India. As a kind of ur-text, Dalton ably translates and excavates a long Dunhuang text describing the pacification of the diabolical being Rudra, a tantric master gone wrong, who becomes an antinomian and out-of-control agent of chaos and anomie. After being pacified by the superior powers of Herkua, Rudra is bound to serve the dharma.
This myth codified the basic structure of containment of violent forces on every level, which Dalton traces through the evolution of tantric pacification rites intended to subdue evil or to protect the country against hostile invaders, whether Mongol, English, or Chinese. At times viewed as a tool of vital importance, and at times viewed with suspicion as essentially a form of blood offering or human sacrifice, these practices and energies remain always at the margins of Tibetan culture.
Although Dalton does not bring it up, my mind was forcefully brought to the recent controversy over the propitiation of Dorje Shugden by the Gelukpas, which culminated in tragedy and murder in the Himalayan town of Dharamsala not long ago. I would refer the interested reader to George Dreyfus's account "The Shugden Affair" for a modern-day story illustrating the real-world consequences of the ambivalence of these practices, where one yogi's enlightened protector is another yogi's demon.
This book is a stunning and powerful contribution to the study of Tibetan religious culture, and Dalton is a welcome new voice in the academic literature. Dalton shows himself to be versatile and insightful on every level, whether historiographical, doctrinal, philological or psychological. The magisterial concluding section raises deep questions about violence which effectively link this fascinating study to vital concerns of our own times and minds, and brings his analysis well within the field of practical concern. This is an important book, and I will very much look forward to following Dalton's career with great interest. ...more
This touching memoir of Beach's years as proprietress of the infamous Shakespeare & Company bookshop in Paris deserves a place of honor on the booThis touching memoir of Beach's years as proprietress of the infamous Shakespeare & Company bookshop in Paris deserves a place of honor on the bookshelf next to Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast." Any fan of early 20th Century literature and art will be delighted by her intimate reminiscences of Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Valéry, Fitzgerald, and especially James Joyce. Her long years' friendship with the latter author and her indefatigable labors on his behalf makes up about a half of this short book, and it is a vital source of insight on his life and character.
It is filled with unforgettable anecdotes, such as her work with Hemingway to find and fund a compatriot to operate out of Canada and smuggle first-edition copies of Ulysses across the border into the US, literally in his pants, so they could be shipped to subscribers without being confiscated and burned.
The brief account of her harrowing years living under the Nazi occupation and the end it brought to her wonderful bookstore may well bring a tear to your eye. Beach emerges as a tireless, heroic, kind, perceptive, and altogether wonderful woman who had the great good fortune to be at the center of one of the high watermarks of European art and literature, and fully knew and savored it. ...more
I have many times experienced a pronounced cognitive dissonance in approaching the Norse religious and mythological material, as the summary literaturI have many times experienced a pronounced cognitive dissonance in approaching the Norse religious and mythological material, as the summary literature tends to present the various gods and legends as if they form a more or less well-ordered pantheon, analogous to the clean structural lines one finds in Homer's Olympians.
But when I turn to the matter itself, I find a source literature that is deeply bewildering - weird heterogeneous composites of Christian and pagan beliefs, fragmentary and elliptical poems, and dense, difficult narratives.
This close study of the evolution of a handful of key Norse symbols and constructs, tied to careful reading of the archaeological material, was enormously helpful in clarifying why I always find the source material so confusing - because it IS confusing, and these "Myths and Legends of the Norsemen" type books deeply obfuscate the profoundly problematic nature of the source material.
In reality, as Andren points out, we don't even know in the Prose Edda alone if we're reading of one cosmic tree or several trees. Are the tree of Mimir's well, the tree upon which Odin hung, and the World Tree one and the same? It's impossible to determine from the literary evidence, though it's often taken for granted that they are.
As an aside, I would note that it was typical of Wagner's genius that he maintained precisely that ambiguity with respect to the World Tree by making the foundation of Sieglinde's home an ash. But I digress.
The picture that Andren gives of Norse mythology is a shifting constellation of key images that are exalted, forgotten, rediscovered, lost again, and recovered from the outside over the long centuries. Some of the key symbols, such as the enigmatic divine twins that appear on a great deal of rock art, seem to be rooted in the same ubiquitous Proto-Indo-European motif that was known to the Greeks as the Dioscuri. Other symbols, such as the sun, may have originally come from the same root, only to be forgotten, and then restored to centrality after being reintroduced from without by the Roman legionaries and their cult of Sol Invictus.
The literary and historical evidence is so fragmentary and problematic that one can only sift carefully through the rubble, trying to contextualize as best one can the various meanings ascribed to different images, which may or may not persist over time, depending on how the material is read. For example, there appears to be a great cycle involving the cycle of the sun, as it travels through the sky by day, descends under the earth, and moves through the antipodes of the netherworld by night, only to re-emerge each dawn.
Can that cycle truly be read from apparently cosmological drawings showing a sun-like object at the apex, and flanked by twin figures? It is extremely hard to say.
All Andren can do is speculate, and if at times he perhaps makes more than is strictly possible from the skeletal evidence, at least he continually foregrounds the problems of evidence and interpretation, unlike many unwary practitioners of the archaeology of religion who are dead certain that the spiral is a symbol of the generative powers of the earth.
This book primarily centers on three close studies - of the world tree, the cosmological organization of rock forts, and the transformation of the solar myth. It's stiff academic writing and I wouldn't recommend it to a reader who lacks a significant appetite for that kind of prose, but I found it extremely enlightening on the whole. ...more
One of the great ironies of world literature is that the sole extant novel by the Greek author Longus is actually quite short.
Okay, now that I've gotOne of the great ironies of world literature is that the sole extant novel by the Greek author Longus is actually quite short.
Okay, now that I've gotten that out of my system ....
"Daphnis and Chloe" is one of the quintessential works of the Hellenistic period, and it's tempting to conclude with the classicists of the 19th century, reading this trifle, that Hellenism was a period of decadence in Greek culture. We've come a long way from Aeschylus and Homer, to this artful pastoral diversion written for city-dwellers who had never set foot in the country. In Longus' idyllic vision of the rural world, bees are all honey and no sting, and even the fearsome god Pan has been reduced to a character from the Beethoven sequence of Disney's Fantasia.
The plot, such as it is, involves the star-crossed lovers Daphnis and Chloe as they stumble their way into love's mysteries and each others' arms, faced with minor trials of sub-Herculean scope, such as not understanding how one is to comport one's self in satisfying the needs of the body.
I couldn't help but think of the glorious pediment statue of the Archaic precursor to the Parthenon, housed in the Acropolis museum - a vivid and enormous depiction of a lion bringing down a bull. It remains one of the most powerful images of religious art I've yet seen, and I can only shake my head at the decline of insight and intensity that wound Greek culture down from that searing encounter with the heart of nature to this mere ornament, which has the insight and profundity of one of Mozart's comedies.
I was strongly reminded of von Eschenbach's Parsifal in his fool state, reading of Daphnis' proclivity to burst into tears whenever frightened or confused, and his stone-dull inability to reason through the basic facts of life.
That said, it is a piece of its time, and reflects the anxieties and outlooks of the leisure class of late-period Hellenistic culture. It is one of the world's first novels, and it attempts a psychology of sorts which is more amusing than persuasive. I can't speak for the quality of the translation, other than to my ears it landed as vernacular and a little clunky throughout. If there is lyricism in the original, that's where it mostly stayed. ...more
Excellent collection of essays, interviews, and short poem-like writings by Heiner Müller - very illuminating to the author's work. Otherwise valuableExcellent collection of essays, interviews, and short poem-like writings by Heiner Müller - very illuminating to the author's work. Otherwise valuable for his important and thought-provoking views on history, politics, and the theater. Müller was an Eastern European intellectual of no mean intellectual powers, and it's quite interesting to hear the story of the Cold War years narrated by a privileged individual living in the DDR by choice, and not for any lame ideological reasons. I was particularly engaged by his analysis of the separation between real life and work in capitalist countries, and the degree to which East Germany is weak in comparison to the West primarily with respect to categories that the East rejects. ...more
Stopped reading this book on page 29, when I encountered this gem:
"Celt, Saxon, and Dane came over to slaughter or expel the inhabitants and settle iStopped reading this book on page 29, when I encountered this gem:
"Celt, Saxon, and Dane came over to slaughter or expel the inhabitants and settle in their place, but the Romans came to exploit and govern by right of superior civilization. In this they resembled the Europeans in Africa rather than the Pilgrim Fathers in America. Yet the natives of Britain were white men, capable of adopting Latin ways more fully than most Africans are capable of adopting the ways of Europe."
Yeah, no thanks, I'll leave this in the dust bin of history where it belongs.
And you many Goodreads reviewers who awarded this book an average of four stars - there are histories of England out there that aren't permeated by racist models of the biological and cultural superiority of the white man. ...more