Blake himself is an unparalleled writer. This edition features all of his major poetry (except "Jerusalem" has only an excerpt), important essays he wBlake himself is an unparalleled writer. This edition features all of his major poetry (except "Jerusalem" has only an excerpt), important essays he wrote, and letters to friends, as well as helpful annotations, introductions to each work, and a few insightful critical essays.
If you want a good Blake experience for $20, check this out....more
Here's how the review breaks down: 4 stars for the ideas, and for what I've learned; 1 star for for the poor writing, cluttered with awkward transitioHere's how the review breaks down: 4 stars for the ideas, and for what I've learned; 1 star for for the poor writing, cluttered with awkward transitions and (nearly) irrelevant asides....more
Irrational Man, published in 1958, provides a survey of existential philosophy, its roots, and its place history. As cover proudly claims, it does indIrrational Man, published in 1958, provides a survey of existential philosophy, its roots, and its place history. As cover proudly claims, it does indeed handle these topics in a "lucid" way. William Barrett comes off as the kind of guy you would like to have as your introductory philosophy professor, able to explain elusive concepts in a clear (yet not condescending) manner, summarizing such massive works of thought as Aquinas's Summa Theologica, Kierkegaard's Either/Or, Heidegger's Being and Time, and Sartre's Being and Nothingness.
While his historical survey is impressive, his treatment of the four major existentialist figures that he presents - Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre - is biased. Barrett clearly favors Kierkegaard and Heidegger, calling Nietzsche mad and Sartre, essentially, a squanderer of enormous talent.
Barrett is also clearly a product of his time, for better or for worse. One the one hand, it's refreshing to read a book about philosophy without an intrusion from good ol' Postmodernism. One the other hand, Barrett's thought bears the influence of psychoanalysis and the vestiges of a much stronger patriarchy. He occasionally throws in the classic stereotypes about gender, such as seeing the male as active and the female as passive. For example, he derides Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir with the following sentence:
"...consider the pathology of an ordinary woman. Not of the women one meets in Sartre's novels or plays; nor of that woman, who wrote a book of feminine protest, The Second Sex, which is in reality the protest against being feminine."
However, I don't want to deride Barrett too much. The task he set before him was immense, and he synthesizes all the relevant knowledge very well. Also, I know the gender criticisms brought against him are serious, but, in a way, I feel that it is judging him ex post facto. Irrational Man was a gift I received from a friend, and I'm glad to have engaged with it....more
Given the fact that R. H. Blyth was a friend and disciple of D. T. Suzuki, one might expect Zen in English Literature to be an apology for Zen BuddhisGiven the fact that R. H. Blyth was a friend and disciple of D. T. Suzuki, one might expect Zen in English Literature to be an apology for Zen Buddhism, using quotations from Western classics to make Buddhist philosophy palatable to an educated Anglophone audience. While Blyth indeed achieves this, the reader quickly becomes aware that he is up to something more. Not only does his book explore Buddhism; it also sheds new light on the classic works of the English language.
One example of this double-edged sword is his use of Shakespeare, who seems to make an appearance on every other page of Zen in English Literature. Blyth places Shakespeare at the outset of his work next to a Zen classic, invoking the two as his highest authorities:
Throughout this book and throughout life itself, one thing must never be forgotten: "In the three worlds, everything depends on the mind" [from the Hojoki], that is, "Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
This quotation from Hamlet becomes a refrain that shows up at key moments in the book, a kind of epigraph that, as it is continually developed, becomes the summary of the truth of Zen and Shakespeare. For, as Blyth explains, the bard's greatness is that he "looks steadily at the object," which is also the ultimate goal that Zen hopes to achieve:
These thoughts about things, this colouring of things by the emotions, that is, the desires and antipathies of the mind, – this is what Zen wishes us, above all things, to do away with.
Although it is practically a truism that Shakespeare's allusiveness, his ability to put on the cloak of any of his characters and speak genuinely as him or her, is precisely his genius, Blyth goes one step further and argues that this is also the essence of Zen, that is, Truth. From this perspective, Shakespeare's works becomes the paragon of religious poetry.
Shakespeare is just one author whose work takes on deeper meaning after Blyth's treatment of it. Cervantes' Don Quixote, for example, becomes "Zen incarnate," a character who "surpasses Hakuin, Rinzai, Enô, Daruma and Shakamuni [the Buddha] himself" in his embodiment of Zen ideals. Rather than following the traditional interpretation that Don Quixote is a fool, Blyth invites the reader to see him as "the vision of Truth" inadequately put into practice, whose story illuminates "the underlying sense of shame that our lives are directed to the acquisition of all the things Don Quixote so rightly despised." Other authors Blyth treats at length include Dickens, Stevenson, Wordsworth, and Keats, in each case compelling the reader to view their works anew.
The force of Zen in English Literature is that it touches upon as many literary heroes as possible, demonstrating how pervasive is the truth he espouses. But this is also the book's weakness. It serves as an introduction rather than an in-depth criticism, and, like any introduction, risks skimming on the surface of the topics he brings up. For example, in his chapter on "Figures of Speech," Blyth introduces the idea that "figures of speech are jumps, jumps out of appearance into reality, a return to the Unity of things, to the ever-blessed One," rather than just interesting ways of describing the mundane. He even goes so far as to condone one of my favorite pastimes, saying, "The mixing of metaphors... far from being a vice, is the highest of virtues, if you can do it properly." Though the author begins to describe how different kinds of figures of speech (simile, metaphor, metonymy, etc.) relate to his mystical monism, he fails to offer anything more than a brief sketch.
Yet literary criticism, on the whole, has focused too exclusively on the minutiae for too long. A change is due. The breadth Blyth displays in Zen in English Literature and the Oriental Classics is increasingly becoming a necessity as globalization continues to thrust disparate cultures into one another's arms. The ability to communicate with each other is now a necessity, not a luxury. Blyth, however, anticipated the coming interconnection of East and West and set up a dialogue between the classics of both worlds, fostering mutual understanding, that the Orient and the Occident may be less (forgive the pun) Zenophobic....more