Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Life of Pi Redux

Don't read this if you plan on reading the book and you don't want spoilers!

Dan asked me what my take on the Life of Pi was? So instead of burying it in the comments I thought I would post about it.

Like I said before the Life of Pi is a book that pays huge dividends upon completion, and upon reflection. It is a book that claims to make you believe in god. While that is a bold claim, which depending upon ones own constitution may or may not be true, it will certainly make you reflect upon the divine.

The claim itself made me have high ambitions for the book, not because I believed it, but rather because it reminded me of the opening of my favorite book, 'A Prayer for Owen Meany', the narrator of that book claims that it was Owen who made him believe in god, and to be honest, A Prayer for Owen Meany was a book that helped me regain my faith in a time of doubt, so I was hoping that Pi would be an equally powerful narrative.

It was a powerful story and it will make me think and reflect for days to come, but if I were to succinctly give my take on the book, I think the message is about the power of stories to influence and even sustain faith. The book never mentions the 'truth' of the divine, and that will bother a lot of people who think that truth is the beginning and end of religion. And it reduces the religious life to living out better stories, stories of hope, stories of redemption, stories of survival, rather than living out stories that are cold and materialist (in the technical sense), but that's not a bad reduction. What one needs to live out these better stories is an imagination that itself is empowered by faith. So the novel has a lot to chew on.

The problem I find with this narrative, is not that it ignores truth, but rather that it ignores community. But this is not really a serious problem I have with the novel, because I wouldn't expect the novel to grasp this, or want it to, it is simply something I would like keep in my own mind when I reflect upon this book.

There are some killer themes in this book in regards to language, truth, and of course stories. These themes when dealt with in a novel are always riveting to me, and that is part of why I enjoyed the novel, but even if you don't get into these themes the book is still worth a read.

Some choice quotes:

On Tradition:

"But we should not cling! A plague upon fundamentalists and literalists!"

This quote reminded me of the seminal work by Fishbane on Ancient Israel. Fishbane's main point was to show how the traditions of Israel changed to meet the new circumstances of the present. If traditions don't change they become naturally become impotent.

On Language:

"Doesn't the telling of something always become a story? ...Isn't telling something - using words - already something of an invention?...The world isn't how it is. It is how you understand it, no? And in understanding something we bring something to it, no? Doesn't that make life a story?”

Yes it does Pi, Yes it does.... "And so it goes with God."

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Why universal health care is a good move!

Read this here.

Why a Ph.D. takes so long...

Back when I was in Sheffield I remember at a seminar Prof. Loveday Alexander mentioned how she thought that the proper paradigm for the parting of the ways was mostly captured by Boyarin's account. I sat there and nodded my head, as I often do when things only partially register, whilst my brain raced trying desperately to connect the name Boyarin with the books that I had recently read. I had remembered one on Intertextuality and Midrash, and perhaps something about a radical Jew, but nothing on Christian origins. So I determined to find Boyarin's book on Christian origins, as soon as the seminar was over, but I suspect the sirens at the Devonshire Cat were calling that day, and by the second pint all thoughts of getting any serious work done were well behind me.

Well good news I have finally tracked down Boyarin's book on the subject, it only took me two years. Who said efficiency is part of the Ph.D. process anyway? Well I plan on posting some thoughts on the parting of the ways after I tuck into this little gem.

Oh, you just want me to give up the name of the book when I worked so hard for it!

Ok then I am feeling nice:


I heard a preacher say that you can't love God directly, you can only love God indirectly by loving others. That really made me start to think about how much I love God...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Who Said It?

"if the misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions , great is our sin."

Monday, July 10, 2006

the errors of our ways

I picked up the "Mismeasure of Man" by S.J.Gould and couldn't help but think that these 'sins' are the very same grave errors one finds in much of Biblical Studies.

Reductionism: the desire to explain partly random, large-scale, and irreducibly complex phenomena by the smallest constituent parts.

Reification: the propensity to convert an abstract concept into a hard entity

Dichotomization: our desire to parse complex and continuous reality into two's

Hierarchy: our inclination to order items by ranking them in a linear series of increasing worth

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

the better story

Some time ago I trudged through the Yann Martel novel the Life of Pi. I say trudge because while it started off extremely engaging, the majority of the novel takes place on a shiprecked raft, and there is not a heck of a lot things you can do on a raft. Yet, it is one of those novels that pays huge dividends upon finishing. It is simply superbly crafted. And I know I will read it again. Here is a passage from the book that has a a bit of a Brueggemannian feel. Enjoy:

I can well imagine an atheist's last words: "White, white! L-L-Love! My God!" --and the deathbed leap of faith. Whereas the agnostic, if he stays true to his reasonable self, if he stays beholden to dry, yeastless factuality, might try to explain the warm light bathing him by saying, "Possibly a f-f-failing in oxygenation of the b-b-brain," and, to the very end, lack imagination and miss the better story.