In going out on a limb and rating this 5 stars. I know it disappointed many, and was lackluster to others, but I thought it very effectively weaved to...moreIn going out on a limb and rating this 5 stars. I know it disappointed many, and was lackluster to others, but I thought it very effectively weaved together complex treatments of identity, gender, religion, duty, death, and fate. Martin's treatment of tyranny as an apolitical and isolating regime based on the tyrant's own fear and pursuit of base self-interest is evocative of Ancient Greek philosophy. The book is as long as it is to build the lattice work that allows these overlapping motifs to to interact in complex ways. While the previous book was exciting, this one was thought provoking in ways that a lot of fantasy isn't. After the relentless action that made A Storm of Swords an exhilarating and wonderful read, the author slows down the pace considerably to look at the world he's built from another, considerably more subdued, angle. The interior motivations of each character are meticulously (painfully so, sometimes) developed and revealed in ways that give them depth and a certain realism against the fantastical backdrop. While the structure and pace of the book is audacious and upset many readers, Martin chooses to focus on the characters that best highlight the central themes he wants to explore. The new characters, even if we are only with them a short while, also complement these themes and give us the opportunity to explore the world in greater detail. And the fact that over 60% of the book is devoted to the perspectives of strong, well-developed female characters is significant. This is a well thought out book and an example of great fantasy writing.(less)
It was a pleasure to finally read Jane Eyre. Since it has become such a staple of Western literary culture, I came to anticipate many of the story's p...moreIt was a pleasure to finally read Jane Eyre. Since it has become such a staple of Western literary culture, I came to anticipate many of the story's plot points. I knew of Jane's strength of character, Mr. Rochester's flawed personality, the mad woman in the attic, and the deadly fire from sources I have long forgotten about. Because I had read Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea for the post-colonial perspective many years ago, I also came to this book with many assumptions about what perspective I should take on each of the characters, particularly an initial distaste for Mr. Rochester and a knowing sympathy for Bertha. Despite my foreknowledge and weighted assumptions, I found this book to be surprising in its near seamless blending of Victorian Gothic themes with the force of will of it's female protagonist, which struck me as ahead of its time. This is no less impressive given that Charlotte Brontë could not publish the book under her own name and had to choose a gender ambiguous pseudonym. The Victorian themes, though, keep this book from having a modern or contemporary feel and create a wonderfully dark and grotesque portrait of mid-nineteenth century England. Jane's heroic independence creates fascinating tensions within this Victorian setting. For instance, the tensions between religion, religious practice, religious convention, and morality. The narrative begins and ends with Jane in the company of devoutly religious characters: Mrs Reed and Mr. Brocklehurst at the beginning and St. John towards the end. Mrs. Reed adheres to a strict sense of pervasive Puritan social norms and expectations. These norms represent deeply held convictions that govern social action, but lead to Mrs. Reed's cold and abusive treatment towards Jane, and, as we see latter on, her embittered view of her own life and all around her. St. John is depicted as so sternly determined in his Evangelical mission, to the point of being cold and distanced from others, that he is prepared to martyr himself for the cause. Jane narrowly escapes his plan to make a martyr of her, as well. Mr. Brocklehurst is prepared to martyr the children under his care for his vision of purifying asceticism, but hypocritically will not hold himself to those same standards. Each of these characters dedicate themselves to religious dogmas, customs, and norms that govern social action. And each distance themselves from or abuse those close to them. Jane, on the other hand, grows up with a religious education and expresses a strong admiration for St. John's religious mission. But Jane rarely speaks in religious dogma and is, rather, committed to an inner moral sense. Jane's morality emerges from her courage to struggle against those who abuse her in the name of dogma or to tame her sense of self while also remaining committed to those around her. This leads her to embody resolutely Christian values such as forgiveness and compassion for others. She does this through remaining independent from the norms and classes that govern society and the men who seek to control her. The power of this message is that Jane's sense of independence and her force of will never leads her to descend into amoral hedonism, religious disavowal, or individualistic solipsism. Instead, it is her independence that allows her to to be moral. She is not moral despite her independence, intelligence, and critical eye. She is moral because of these qualities. Inverting morality from something that is rooted in social convention to something that emerges out of independence and force of will gives Jane the capacity to stand up to the domineering figures in her life. The intensity of Chapter XXVII, which takes place after Jane finds out about Mr. Rochester's mad first wife just before they are married, is marked by the tension between Jane's physical weekends and her inner strength. There are multiple allusions to Jane as a small bird, as either a Lark or a sparrow, juxtaposed against Mr. Rochester's physical strength. But Jane's resolute sense of self and independence stands firm against Mr. Rochester's enraged passion. Jane is attracted to Mr. Rochester's strength and prevalent character flaws, but they do not finally marry until after Mr. Rochester is physically crippled and determined to change his ways, feeling punished for his past mistakes. By the end, Jane is still the lark, but Mr. Rochester is a bounded eagle: grotesque, scared, physically broken, and content to be dependent on the ever compassionate and loving Jane. The book ends with St. Johns last words to Jane before he dies, expressing his knowledge that he he will be rewarded in heaven for his unwavering determination down below. Despite the abusive power he tried to wield over her, Jane seems to admire this recognition. But this does not inspire her to follow in St. Johns path, but rather to reap the rewards, despite the odds, that come from being true to herself.(less)
I am limited in reading the Aeneid in that I have neither any knowledge of Latin nor recently read other translations. So I lack the basis to assess t...moreI am limited in reading the Aeneid in that I have neither any knowledge of Latin nor recently read other translations. So I lack the basis to assess the translation or how it compares to other works. But Robert Fagles' ambition to trace the "no-man's land" between faithfulness to the original text and modern English readability appears, to the causal reader, to be successful. Enough of the Latin is retained to illuminate the esoteric quality of Roman literary form and culture while the Modern epic poetic style carries readers along a compelling narrative regardless. One of the challenges Fagles faces is giving live and energy to "the loneliest man in literature." Aeneas is pious not because he honors the gods, but because his actions are inextricably bound by fate. He is forcibly removed from his home after the Trojan loss to the Greeks, and is guided by prophecies that he is to found a great civilization on the shores of Latium, or Italy. The journey that readers experience is one of someone who is homeless seeking a distant destiny to rebuild the Trojan legacy in Rome: Aeneas is in the process of making himself anew. The reader is witness to the process, but does not see it completed. This is evocative of the time period in which it was written, with a newly emerging, Roman Empire being formed out of the ashes of the Republic. Rome is in transition, too, its destiny foretold but not yet realized. But this leaves Aeneas a "ghost of Troy" the entire poem. He looses his family, leaves the woman he loves, and engages in fierce battles to realize a fate that he has heard of second hand. Aeneas is empty because of this, unlike Achilles or Odysseus who embody and realize a certain Greek ethos. Thus it can be a challenge for readers to connect or sympathize with the hero. But from today's perspective, the emptiness and the deferred realization of a foretold great empire can be quite provocative. The relentless pull of fate can be quite jarring for modern readers. The personal and political are bound by fortune (Fortuna). This is exactly what Machiavelli fears is detrimental to political order and rallies against in his book "The Prince." In the Aeneid, there appears to be no distinction between the Public, Private, Political, and Fortune. Today, we are inheritors of Machiavelli's call for a politics divested of fortune, and putting ourselves in a world where success and failure are seen to be the whim of the gods is a move we must make to understand Virgil's epic. Also of interest is the moral ambiguity prevalent throughout the work. Virgil, like Homer before him, is writing before an era of Manichean dualism. For Virgil good and evil, right and wrong, are not as clearly distinguished as they are in many modern narratives. This is marked clearly in the final battle scenes. Aeneas is a stranger to Italy's shores and wages battles against the already established rulers of the area in order to found his city on the word of fate. Aeneas is seen to be fierce and unforgiving, but just. His justice is waged against the warlord Turnus, who turns out to be a tragic character much in the mold of Homer's Hector. Turnus is viscous and fated to loose to Aeneas. Turnus knows his fate and is tormented by it, destined to loose his kingdom to the favored, but alien, Aeneas. Turnus' crime is that he does not submit to the fate he is subject to, and thus he becomes a tragic character in the classical tradition. Turnus dies pleading that Aeneas ends the bloodshed that he has caused and institute a reign of peace. The graphic description of Turnus' death and his call for peace reflects the conflicting values of war and peace. For Virgil, to bring about peace, wars must be had. And in war, peace must be yearned for but honor on the battlefield must also be won. Justice/ferocity and war/peace are loath to be separated in this world. And in war both sides take valiant actions and are recognized as great for them, as the ill-fated woman-warrior Camilla demonstrates. There is no battle of good and evil on the field, just the works of heroic warriors, some fated to live, others to die at the whim of the gods. Before his last battle, Turnus cries "Let the sword decide!" This is where he is gravely mistaken. In Virgil's world, it is not the sword that decides; it is fortune. (less)
A wonderful account of the dynamics of political mobilization. This book is a collection of essays that help to elucidate Tilly's theoretical foundati...moreA wonderful account of the dynamics of political mobilization. This book is a collection of essays that help to elucidate Tilly's theoretical foundation. Particularly impressive are his accounts of the formation of political identity and his notion of relational realism, which attempts to find a middle ground between social constructivism and causal analysis. Some familiar with Tilly's work might be disappointed in the ratio of theoretical clarifications to detailed historical and empirical analysis (at various points, Tilly mentions Habermas, Foucault, and Derrida and even engages with the work of Rancière). But despite this focus, Tilly's analysis is always grounded in practical examples and a store of empirical work found in his other works. (less)
The title of this book should actually read "The Global Financial Regulatory Structure." This gets at the heart of the problem with this book. Towards...moreThe title of this book should actually read "The Global Financial Regulatory Structure." This gets at the heart of the problem with this book. Towards the end, the authors make a distinction between "legislative and structural" reform of global financial regulation. The authors, however, spend no time at all discussing the legislative end to the global financial system. This is a problem not the least because Chapters 4-6 (out of 7) deal with national and regional regulatory systems that are structured around the enforcement of regulatory laws. Even on the global level, there is no discussion in this book about the forms of international financial law that regulate the flows of global finance and economics. The terms legislation and law come up remarkably infrequently and there is no discussion about what those laws are. The issue of democracy is not even considered, regardless of the fact that every case the authors deal with (except for the brief considerations of Islamic Finance and China) are liberal democracies. One would incorrectly come away from this book imagining that the SEC developed and enacted, along with enforcing, American securities.
There is also no attempt to relate national, European-wide, and Global financial systems. They are briefly considered as aspects of the larger global financial system, but there is no description of how they relate to one another and the problems that emerge from those relationships. Besides the lack of consideration of the legal aspects to financial regulation, there is no consideration whatsoever of how global finance affects international development and the role of civil society in global financial regulation. These topics have been discussed widely elsewhere, but are not even referenced by the authors. By focusing too much on the structure of global finance, the reader comes away with a weak understanding of what global financial regulation does and flawed understanding of all of the elements (law, civil society, national governments, etc) that participate in that structure. There is too much consideration of regulatory bodies as autonomous, expert lead agencies.
Such problems are added to a lack of normative direction espoused by the authors. This becomes apparent in their concluding chapter considering possible structural reforms. There reforms tend to call for greater transparency and communication between the plethora of regulatory bodies that exist on a global level. There is no discussion, except in two sentences considering the European Union, that further legislation is necessary. Neither financial nor political norms are stated that would orient what different agencies should talk about or what legislative efforts should be pursued. From this perspective, focusing on the minutia of structural details in other parts of the book clouds the potential for thinking outside of the structural box. This leads the authors to call for weak, minimal reforms (a claim that the authors concede in chapter 7) that would have no force of law or accountability.
Add to this the lack of clarification around important terms and all that is left is a partial catalogue of regulatory agencies and a recounting of the debate surrounding national (not global) financial regulatory structures. For this catalogue, the book becomes worthwhile, but only if one takes note of the failure to contextualize those agencies within a world of national, regional, and global legislation, civil society, and tangible financial outcomes such as international development. (less)
This is a magnificent treatment of constitutionalism in light of the post-Soviet Eastern European transitions to democracy. Arato seamlessly weaves to...moreThis is a magnificent treatment of constitutionalism in light of the post-Soviet Eastern European transitions to democracy. Arato seamlessly weaves together theoretical reflections and empirical examples. Hegel, Toqueville, Schitt, Madison, Pain, Marx, etc. are considered alongside the developments of the constitutions of Hungary, Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, etc. And between this combination of theory and practice, Arato demonstrates his proficiency in jurisprudence and history. For the more theoretically minded, one might say that theory at times becomes subsumed to case studies. For the more empirically minded, one might not clearly understand why we need to remember Hegel in evaluating the drafting of the post-Soviet Hungarian constitution. But for those studying Constitutions who value interdisciplinarity and the ability to draw equally from multiple intellectual traditions, this set of interrelated essays is a must read. (less)
A wonderful and odd alternative-history that is many things at once: a re-invention of the fantasy genre, a reflection on the British character, an in...moreA wonderful and odd alternative-history that is many things at once: a re-invention of the fantasy genre, a reflection on the British character, an investigation into the frivolous debates of academics, a deconstruction of race and gender norms, and sometimes tedious comedy of errors. For the first two thirds, the narrative takes many twists and turns. So many that it is sometimes hard to imagine how all of the pieces will fit together or why it is important to care about a character that seems to only appear briefly and then exist the plot. For instance, the novel opens on a series of English "theoretical" magicians focused on one John Segundus. The narrative stays with this character and his encounters with Gilbert Norrell for about 50-60 pages, only to leave Segundus behind and focus on Norrell. Segundus reappears about 500 pages later only to disappear again. The character then reappears again about 300 pages later towards the end. With hundreds of pages separating the appearance of secondary characters, and even more pages separating important tertiary characters, sometimes the narrative seems to take exceedingly long detours away from the major plot points that drive the novel to its conclusions. But these detours are all a part of Clarke's reflections on different aspects of Englishness, class, status, and academia. It also allows her to weave together multiple different genres into a complex and weird tapestry that is fun and witty, if not purposively unsettling.
The length of the book also allows Clarke to probe the relationship between Norrell and Strange in depth, tracing its many shifts that pull them apart and bring them together in various ways. Being an academic, their relationship is quite evocative of the statement, "why are academic disputes so bitter? Because there is so little at stake." At times it does appear that there is little at stake in the novel (except the winning of the Napoleonic wars). But the novel seems to maintain a sense of subdued drama amidst academic and social tensions, and the promise of a prophecy about to be revealed. The last 250 pages are exciting and a nice change of pace from the first two thirds of the book. The revelation of the prophecy is slightly anti-climatic. But that might also be the point. Anything else would deviate from the British measuredness that characterizes the rest of the novel. At times the novel is more interesting than exciting. But in the end, it is well worth the read and a fascinating combination of fantasy and 19th century British writing styles. (less)