Bloated and exhausting, this is still an exhiliratingly perverse phallocentric psychodrama as set in the New Kingdom of ancient Egypt. Not as sharp or...moreBloated and exhausting, this is still an exhiliratingly perverse phallocentric psychodrama as set in the New Kingdom of ancient Egypt. Not as sharp or original as Mailer's fiction (and non-fiction) of the 60s, it manages to hit some heights amidst its 700-plus pages: the hallucinatory opening in which a soul screams through rebirth, a boat trip down the Nile, and the Satyricon-esque Battle of Kadesh. Personally I prefer more of Mailer's magic (mind-reading, reincarnation, curses) than his soap opera (the power struggles of Egypt's royalty), and there's a lot of the latter, but stay with this beast and you will be rewarded.
"Crude thoughts and fierce forces are my state. I do not know who I am. Nor what I was. I cannot hear a sound. Pain is near that will be like no pain felt before.
Is this the fear that holds the universe? Is pain the fundament? All the rivers veins of pain? The oceans my mind awash? I have a thirst like the heat of earth on fire. Mountains writhe. I see waves of flame. Washes, flashes, waves of flame. Thirst is in the rivers of the body. The rivers burn but do not move. Flesh -- is it flesh? -- lies beneath some heated stone. Lava rises in burned-out fields. Where, in what cavern, have such disruptions taken place? Volcanic lips give fire, wells bubble. Bone lies like rubble upon the wound. Is one human? Or merely alive? Like a blade of grass equal to all existence in the moment it is torn? Yes. If pain is fundament, then a blade of grass can know all there is."(less)
The best and worst of Lawrence: on one hand a powerful feeling for the environment of Mexico and some beautiful descriptions of rituals of regeneratio...moreThe best and worst of Lawrence: on one hand a powerful feeling for the environment of Mexico and some beautiful descriptions of rituals of regeneration and duality, on the other hand an almost punishing harangue of characters and entire peoples "beneath" the writer's contempt and, notoriously, a seriously problematic flirtation with the fascistic side of neo-paganist "cults of the body." Still, I'd rather learn and feel something new from an impassioned writer whose justified detestation of machine-age soullessness took him into dangerous areas of thought than follow the lead of a milquetoast talent content with the absence of philosophical or aesthetic risk.(less)
If anybody can convince this jaded atheist of the existence of God, it's Norman Mailer. His beliefs about God as expounded in his latest book, a serie...moreIf anybody can convince this jaded atheist of the existence of God, it's Norman Mailer. His beliefs about God as expounded in his latest book, a series of interviews with Michael Lennon, are nothing new from the great writer. From a 1958 interview collected in Advertisements for Myself:
". . . God is in danger of dying. In my very limited knowledge of theology, this never really has been expressed before. . . . Man's fate [is] tied up with God's fate. God is no longer all-powerful. The moral consequences of this are not only staggering, but they're thrilling; because moral experience is intensified rather than diminished. . . . I think that the particular God we can conceive of is a god whose relationship to the universe we cannot divine; that is, how enormous He is in the scheme of the universe we can't begin to say. But almost certainly, He is not all-powerful; He exists as a warring element in a divided universe, and we are a part of -- perhaps the most important part -- of His great expression, His enormous destiny; perhaps He is trying to impose upon the universe His conception of being against other conceptions of being very much opposed to His. Maybe we are in a sense the seed, the seed-carriers, the voyagers, the explorers, the embodiment of that embattled vision; maybe we are engaged in heroic activity, and not a mean one."
Mailer's theological understanding hasn't changed much since this comment. He believes in God, in the Devil, and in Man, three forces at battle with no predetermined outcome. God is an existentialist god, and that works for me: it's the best explanation I've yet heard to explain the deity. Unfortunately, Mailer is in his mid-eighties now and aside from The Castle in the Forest has of late published collected or reworked interviews such as in this book, The Big Empty, and The Spooky Art. Like The Big Empty, On God is easy to read but often goes in circles, with the same questions repeatedly posed and the same ideas repeatedly expressed. Mailer has worked his theological vision into novels like An American Dream and Ancient Evenings, and I think those are more important and rewarding works. On God puts forth Mailer's ennobling, unorthodox concept of God directly, but without the imaginative contours that allow this higher power to operate in a chaotic, albeit fictional, world.(less)
Personal theory of the Tanakh, or what Christian's call The Old Testament: whether intentionally or not, the Tanakh charts the ever-growing distance b...morePersonal theory of the Tanakh, or what Christian's call The Old Testament: whether intentionally or not, the Tanakh charts the ever-growing distance between man and God. First God creates the universe and exists in perfect harmony with man; then man breaks the pact of that union; throughout his wanderings, man is continually reconnected to God through a series of covenants meant to reestablish that original union; but time and again man breaks those covenants, to the point where God becomes more and more remote, more and more of a stranger. In "The Five Books of Moses," the "Torah," God communicates directly with man, even if he is never fully seen or experience (Jacob even physically wrestles Him); in "The Prophets" God enacts his will -- usually a wrathful one -- through proxies, as with the enemy armies of Israel like the Babylonians; by the point of "The Writings" God is far away -- he doesn't even show up in "The Song of Songs" or the book of "Esther," and when Job calls upon Him to answer for His seemingly unwarranted acts of destruction God only says, "I never have to justify myself," while Koheleth in "Ecclesiastes" pronounces a nearly existential series of reasons for believing in God ("All is futile") rather exuberant praise for the existence of the Divine Being. The Tanakh is mankind's shameful chronicle of deserved spiritual abandonment.(less)
Less a work of historical criticism than a philosophical tract (though certainly thoroughly researched and highly critical), Heschel holds up the prop...moreLess a work of historical criticism than a philosophical tract (though certainly thoroughly researched and highly critical), Heschel holds up the prophets of the Tanakh as exemplars of not just divine revelation, but also of :"divine pathos" and "prophetic sympathy," men attuned to God's concern for humankind and brave enough to speak His word to those who've forgotten it. The key here is reciprocity between the divine and the human, a concept to which I fully subscribe.(less)
Along with Why Are We in Vietnam?, this is probably Norman Mailer's most overlooked novel. Which is a shame, because it just misses being a masterpiec...moreAlong with Why Are We in Vietnam?, this is probably Norman Mailer's most overlooked novel. Which is a shame, because it just misses being a masterpiece. The way Mailer enlivens and enriches The Greatest Story Ever Told with his existential theology is exhilarating: in his hands Jesus is not simply the Messiah, but a man filled with joy, dread, self-doubt, regret, and longing. Here Christ's relationship with Mary is one fraught with filial embarrassment and rebellion (interesting that the mothers of Mailer's novels are so often coddling; this also occurs with Hitler's mother in The Castle in the Forest), his betrayal by Judas fueled by disgust for the master's hypocrisy regarding the poor, his temptation by the devil a constant battle interwoven with his miraculous powers rather than a single desert confrontation. I wish that Mailer had built toward a grander climax (and also that, as a Jew, he had refused to deal with the repulsive Matthew 27:25), but otherwise The Gospel is a marvel that portrays even the highest of prophets as just as human in trying the best that he can to achieve more than imagined.(less)
A terrific anthology of essential Jung, who's more generous than Freud, for my taste. The collective unconscious is the overriding idea of the man's w...moreA terrific anthology of essential Jung, who's more generous than Freud, for my taste. The collective unconscious is the overriding idea of the man's work, but oddly enough I find the essay about the general description of types (extravert, introvert, thinking, feeling, etc.) to be the most interesting, if only because Jung so thoroughly and convincingly demonstrates the infinitely complex interaction between dominant characteristics and unconsciously compensating ones.(less)
Lawrence reconsiders the most controversial book of the New Testament -- the Revelation of St. John -- as a horoscopic blueprint meant to connect man...moreLawrence reconsiders the most controversial book of the New Testament -- the Revelation of St. John -- as a horoscopic blueprint meant to connect man with the cosmos via the unification of body and soul, but one that over time was expurgated by the early church founders to erase all traces of pagan belief and philosophy. It was the last book Lawrence ever wrote, and he may have spent himself putting everything he had into it, all his anti-Christian, anti-democratic, pro-sensuality ideas. As disturbing as some of its undertones are, the power of Apocalypse's spiritual imagination cannot be denied, as Lawrence painfully forces the reader to confront how much we've lost by abstracting God into a vindictive, moral judge rather than the pantheistic hypostasis of nature He (or It) once so vitally was.(less)
Jung was evidently extremely reluctant to compose a memoir of his life, and thus in this autobiographical volume there persists a conspicuous hesitanc...moreJung was evidently extremely reluctant to compose a memoir of his life, and thus in this autobiographical volume there persists a conspicuous hesitancy to comment on the outer trappings of his life, with barely a word mentioned about his marriage, and not a single one about his association with the General Medical Society for Psychotherapy, from which he resigned as it became increasingly swayed toward Nazism. Instead Jung concentrates far more on his inner life, especially during his formative years, and the most interesting parts of the book illuminate the particular interior experiences and dreams from which his profound revelations arose. The chapters "On Life After Death" and "Late Thoughts" are more concrete treatises on the hereafter, spirituality (following on his brilliant "Answer to Job," available in The Portable Jung), and individuation. A single sentence from either of these is worth libraries.(less)
A good summary of the social evolution of Satan as a tool for defaming and denouncing religious enemies. The analysis of the chronological transformat...moreA good summary of the social evolution of Satan as a tool for defaming and denouncing religious enemies. The analysis of the chronological transformation of the role of Satan within the gospels from abettor of the Jews to Jew-incarnate is depressingly illuminating. And the study of the gnostic gospels and their very different -- and more nuanced -- conception of Christian theology is fascinating. Gnosticism is the author's forte, and she brings the full breadth of her knowledge to bear on the subject at hand.(less)