This book is porn for grad students. What? The main character gets an academic position AND the girl?!?
"Possession" is obnoxious on so many levels it...moreThis book is porn for grad students. What? The main character gets an academic position AND the girl?!?
"Possession" is obnoxious on so many levels it is really hard to do justice to them all. I will constrain myself to a few points, and try to keep from throwing the keyboard against the wall as I type. But I must warn others.
As a philologist of sorts, I should enjoy a novel in which an English grad student's quest for truth drove him to love, adventure, and close readings of Victorian texts. Instead it came across as so glib yet so serious, so bombastic yet so banal. I will write more later. Now a few points:
1) I know I am reading this book after the high watermark of theory's empire, but the love triangle between devoted philologist, sexy theory dude, and the feminist professor made me lol. Seriously.
2) This is a novel about English, and therefore Englishness. The Americanness of ridiculous foil, Lenora Stern, is so idiotic it is offensive. Byatt, for all her sensitivity to the Queen's English and Victorian poetry, is completely tone deaf to anything American
In sum, everything about this book made me angry. Everything about this book that should have been interesting came across as goofy. Yeah, everybody had affairs, but dont worry, it all worked out. Everybody ended up with partners that suited them better. The Scooby-Doo style mystery scene that ended the book tied up all the loose ends, made we repent any time I spent with the book. It was all so neat, puerile, and complacent. It was as if the author tried to stop being interesting, after so long of trying so hard. Seriously, in the end all that was missing was a cartoon dog. I was trying to think of ways of reading this book as a satire, and it almost worked — the dead seriousness of Byatt's tone made me wait for the punchline. The joke is really that Possession's Englishness can never be taken seriously (less)
“Hardships and Downfall of Buddhism in India,” despite its cumbersome title, has been the most stimulating book I’ve encountered in a long time. Giova...more“Hardships and Downfall of Buddhism in India,” despite its cumbersome title, has been the most stimulating book I’ve encountered in a long time. Giovanni Verardi takes a difficult subject, and in doing so he marshalls an impressive range of materials, textual, archaeological, epigraphical and art-historical to make an engrossing, and sometimes quite shocking read. Verardi begins by stressing a truth so true, so banal, so blatantly obvious, that it seems to have been forgotten by everyone. One’s interpretation of the disappearance of Buddhism in India tends to be completely pre-determined by the historian’s ideological stance. The mechanics of Buddhism’s disappearance is contained in the way in which one imagines the modern political situation in South Asia. In a very useful first chapter he traces the history of the history of Buddhism through colonial, nationalist, and secular versions, noting how the erasure of Buddhism can be used as a blank space to write one’s own preferred version of social and religious history.
Verardi’s argument is sweeping. He claims that the violence in Indian texts and art is not symbolic, rather it is a representation of real violence committed on account of religious differences. Verardi roots these religious antagonisms in larger social and economic pressures that in turn depend on the caste system for their expression and enforcement. The broad dichotomy he proposes (here crudely put) pits the “antinomian” trading Buddhist community against the hierarchical agrarian Brahmanical community. Verardi’s stress on antinomianism is interesting, since it allows him to make the claim that Tantric Buddhism somehow reclaims the true spirit of the early Samgha, which arose in confrontation to Brahmanical norms.
“Hardships” also makes an interesting, and sometimes unfortunately underdeveloped, argument for the reassessment of Islam’s role in the final disappearance of Buddhism in the Subcontinent (excepting of course among the Newars, but that is beside the point here, although he does have things to say about that as well!). Verardi argues for a more fluid notion of the political situation, with different groups seeking different alliances and trying to benefit from changing circumstances. In the end, his larger argument is that Brahmanical political elites took advantage of the Muslim incursions to mount a final assault on institutionalized Buddhism. His final, almost breathless, chapter is eye-opening, I just wish those 40 pages were developed into book length analysis!
“Hardships and Downfall of Buddhism in India” is an assault in itself, a lot of sources, a lot of ideas, a lot to think about, a lot to disagree with, and a good place to begin questioning historiographic preconceptions that dominate discussions of premodern or precolonial South Asia.(less)
I cannot explain for the life of me the popularity of the book. Everything seemed wrong to me: the plodding pace, the wooden characters, the moderatel...moreI cannot explain for the life of me the popularity of the book. Everything seemed wrong to me: the plodding pace, the wooden characters, the moderately idiotic plot.
That being said, I often find the worst books—especially popular ones—the most interesting, because they tend to be cultural phenomena and tell us a lot more about the world than good literature. But I digress.
To me, the politics driving this book is fascinating: the criminals are right wing deviants, and the heroes are leftish progressives. Here the true cultural perversion is right-wing, nationalist, patriarchal. Larsson goes out of his way to display a multicultural secular ideal. Take for instance, his portrayal of Muslims: always integrated and secular. Fascinating, especially in terms of the European popular conception.
Given Mr. Larsson's previous career, I don't think his politics can be far from his imagination of society and societies ills. This imagination, although to be honest also rather banal, is probably more interesting and worthwhile than his novelistic gifts.(less)
Great Guidebook, great fun, makes me feel like I am too poor, but still it is to be recommended for the architecture section alone.
On a side note, how...moreGreat Guidebook, great fun, makes me feel like I am too poor, but still it is to be recommended for the architecture section alone.
On a side note, how far can snobbishness really go? p. 44 "...and the serving staff thankfully don't suffer from ideas above their station." I have no idea what this actually means; I hope this is somehow ironic.(less)
This book is a mess, but at times an interesting mess, so it deserves two stars. At times, Atwood's ideas are absolutely brilliant, but when she attem...moreThis book is a mess, but at times an interesting mess, so it deserves two stars. At times, Atwood's ideas are absolutely brilliant, but when she attempts to embellish and expand them, they quickly turn hokey and half-baked.
I want to hear more about the wolf-isaiahists, my new favorite bio-religious cult. Thank God she didn't ruin the fun by actually integrating them into her novel!(less)
Writing about music is filled with problems of vocabulary and expression, and reading about music can be a frustratingly alienating experience, yet I...moreWriting about music is filled with problems of vocabulary and expression, and reading about music can be a frustratingly alienating experience, yet I think Alex Ross did an incredible job providing a history of music in the 20th century. The book was well written and lively, and the website with the sound samples made the experience even more rich. After reading the book I went out and bought a copy of Strauss's Salome; I can tell this book is going to be an invaluable companion to my musical education.(less)
Good. I'm a complete novice at this sort of stuff, but I feel better informed now. Retains Kant's complexity while explaining thoroughly some basic co...moreGood. I'm a complete novice at this sort of stuff, but I feel better informed now. Retains Kant's complexity while explaining thoroughly some basic concepts of modern Western philosophy. Dense and I would often have to read sections a few times.
I wish it would have included suggestions for further readings or where one should start when attempting to tackle Kant himself.(less)
Personally I like it. It sometimes seems to be more of a gigantic thick doorstop small print monster of a book than it actually is, and in small doses...morePersonally I like it. It sometimes seems to be more of a gigantic thick doorstop small print monster of a book than it actually is, and in small doses it fills an essential function as introductory text. (The section on the mandala, for instance) It should be noted that the book is seen through the lens of the development and spread of Tantrism, so those wanting an introduction to the Buddhism of the Southern Schools based in the Pali canon might be disappointed. Perhaps it should be seen primarily as a synthetic account of the intellectual history of Tibetan Tantrism.
The book is, as one might be expected, rather uneven. I found the section on the disappearance of Buddhism in South Asia rather thin and not thought out as rigorously as it could have been. What about the Newars? the late Siddhas mentioned by Taranatha?
However, my only real critique is that sometimes Snellgrove's Catholicism leads to lengthy and (while sometimes interesting) generally pointless asides.(less)
Having read through a few of the reviews on the site, I wanted to throw in my own two cents on the themes of hallucination and reality. People tend to...more Having read through a few of the reviews on the site, I wanted to throw in my own two cents on the themes of hallucination and reality. People tend to read their own preoccupations into texts, and with that caveat I would like to propose another source for Dick's novel. I was struck at how much Dick's idea of reality and hallucination followed the outline of Yogācāra Buddhist philosophy. Yogācāra (the practice of concentration) is also called Vijñaptimātra (Ideation-only) or Cittamātra (Mind-only). Without going into a tedious explication of Yogācāra doctrine I would like to show a few points for further thought and discussion:
-The layouts as basis for "translation" does seem quite similar to Yogācāra (whether Tantric or not) meditation practice.
-That Chew-Z as a drug is not necessarily a hallucinogen but rather a device to call reality into question once and for all.
-and more mundanely, Dick's arguments for why Chew-Z might be made legal by the UN revolve around Buddhist members and the theory of reincarnation.
I realize this is all very provisional and probably wrong, but something to think about.
This book will haunt me. It took me a long time to read; I needed long pauses to sit back and think through the book and its implications. The weight...moreThis book will haunt me. It took me a long time to read; I needed long pauses to sit back and think through the book and its implications. The weight of the second half of the 20th century lies heavily on this book. History will break your heart.(less)