A young Fyodor Mikhailovich here pens an ambitious, but profoundly messy, novella that fails--despite its few signs of the greatness that was to comeA young Fyodor Mikhailovich here pens an ambitious, but profoundly messy, novella that fails--despite its few signs of the greatness that was to come very soon (White Nights, that beautiful novella, was a mere two years away). Many of Dosoevsky's mature concerns are present here--madness, self-absorption, isolation, an inability to make sense of one's identity, the difficulties of community. And while these questions receive ever-greater attention as the novella continues (and, as a consequence, the work's quality also improves), it comes too late and too little to overcome several serious flaws. Poor character development (all of Yakov Petrovich's colleagues are interchangeable and confusing) exacerbates the problem of an already confused situation and context. The opening chapters seem like so much mania, and the conflicts that fuel Yakov Petrovich's anxieties and (possible, arguable) madness are ambiguous to the point of absolute frustration. Of course, one could contend that that is part of Dostoevsky's whole point here; true as this may be, it doesn't make the novella any more satisfying, and doesn't lessen the reader's frustration, as he finds himself constantly flipping to early chapters, trying to see what he missed, as there's something going on here but, well, he has no idea what it is. Moments of social satire and humor are well-done, but they seem to exacerbate the lack of focus, distracting from, rather than adding to, the work's meaning and questions. Similarly distracting is Dostoevsky's shifting of his narrative voice in places, where he breaks the fourth wall for a few moments.
In sum: for a novella that explores the repercussions of madness and belonging, a confused presentation may be appropriate, but it makes for profoundly dissatisfying reading. A young Dostoevsky is here finding his voice, trying on multiple techniques, and aiming at something great. While that is commendable, what we have here is a singularly brilliant craftsman putting forth his final amateur effort. Holding that consideration beside The Double's few real successes, the work is an understandable, defensible failure--but still a failure, nevertheless....more
John Sexton, president of New York University, gives us this charming collection of anecdotes and reminiscences that serve to remind us that a sport--John Sexton, president of New York University, gives us this charming collection of anecdotes and reminiscences that serve to remind us that a sport--baseball--can remind of religious faith, can even help us to better understand the religious impulse. Sexton doesn't actually believe that a game is a substitute for religion, of course, but we nevertheless come away with a clearer understanding of the means by which we come to terms with faith, its implications, and the practice of life itself. And we do all this through the easy-to-digest metaphors of a familiar game. There are copious, familiar meditations on baseball's rhythms: how it orders time without a clock, its goal to "get home," its cycles, its repetitions, its symmetries, especially its constant use of the number three (and nine, which is, we must remember, three threes). These are familiar to anyone who's ever reflected on baseball, and are the sorts of things the PBS/Ken Burns documentary on baseball explored. The book also serves as a collection of great baseball lore, and the personal story of Sexton's life as a baseball fan, from Dodgers-obsessed Brooklyn kid to present-day Yankees fan.
Those are all fair enough, and would make for an enjoyable book. But what makes this such an intriguing and challenging little volume is how Sexton connects certain concepts from the study of religion to the game. Baseball is not a religion, but it becomes a way by which we can understand why we want religion, faith, and mystery; the game exists as a metaphor for the practice of life. As we live--if we are the sort of person who actively and contemplatively cultivates life, practices living conscientiously and consciously--we are faced with a draw to ineffable things, those things that are true, but True in a way that can only be explained through myth and mystery. We look for mysterium tremendum et fascinans, mystery both fearful and fascinating. We look for moments that are "hierophonic," moments in which the sacred shines through. In these moments, the everyday is not undone or destroyed, but becomes a window through which we can see and experience something beyond ourselves, find ourselves connected to things larger than the self. These religious ideas, which Sexton draws heavily from religious thinker Mircea Eliade, are themselves manifested in baseball and baseball fans' experiences of the game, Sexton asserts.
While it's true that much of what Sexton sees in baseball could be applied to other sports, and any other number of other pastimes as well, baseball's deeply cyclical structure and unique form of order (artificially imposed, but seeming more organic than the inescapably artificial and highly complex order of, say, football) make it highly suited for exploring and reflecting on the hierophonic. If nothing else, Sexton's book should make us reflect on the need for cycles and order in our lives--whether we be religious or not. For the reflective person, this is a challenging and moving little book. For the baseball fan, Sexton's knowledge of baseball lore and talent for storytelling will get you through the winter months. For the person who is both--like me--this is a book of real and substantial loveliness, that will challenge you to live more reflectively and enjoy the great game all the more fully....more