Theory of Religion – Georges Bataille

“Religion”, according to Bataille, “is the search for a lost intimacy.”  In a brilliant and tightly reasoned argument he proceeds to develop a “general economy” of man’s relation to this intimacy:  from the seamless immanence of animality, to the shattered world of objects, and the partial, ritual recovery of the intimate order through the violence of sacrifice.  Bataille then reflects on the archaic festival in which he sees not only the glorious affirmation of life through the destructive consumption but also the seeds of another, more ominous order – war.

It’s been a while since I dipped my toe into the world of Philosophy and it was extremely fortuitous that I decided to start here.  It’s hard to know what to expect from Bataille, a writer on such diverse subjects as mysticism, the surreal, poetry, and erotica.

Bataille was an atheist so naturally a book entitled Theory of Religion was always going to pique my interest.  The title in in itself is misleading, this is not about organised religion as we would think of it today but something more ancient, an innate need to separate the physical from the spiritual.

The more naturalistic elements of understanding the divine are explored, The severance from our animal ancestors through evolution, but with a wish to retain a connection despite community being favoured over the competitive singular. Continue reading “Theory of Religion – Georges Bataille”

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(F)easter

Good Friday promised a leisurely start, especially as the citizens of this country run on ‘Filipino time’ which generally consists of being late at ever opportunity so if you want people to show up at your desired time, its accepted that you tell everyone to arrive at least an hour earlier.  The opposite happened, of course. The rush was then on when word came through that we were going now, Right Now.  You can’t plan anything in advance, I find it best to go with the flow.

Liliw, Laguna. I have no idea about the umbrellas.

The whole weekend was glorious sunshine, especially after a cooling thunderstorm had  hit us the day before.  Off we went to Quezon province. Around about forty of us piled into cars and a lorry, and as usual the lovely countryside sprawled out for my viewing pleasure.

Rolling into our resort, the air con going 24/7 in the rooms was the best thing since the bread before sliced bread.  The first order of business was to go on a short pilgrimage up the Kamay ni Hesus.  Not being a Catholic, I still chose to wander up its 300 steps for the experience.  Thankfully it wasn’t too busy, last time my Filipino fam came the queue was three hours long. Continue reading “(F)easter”

The Grace of a Nightingale – Mary Anne Willow

Mary Anne’s story is both ordinary and extraordinary. Ordinary because she was searching for the same things many of us search for: love, understanding and purpose; and extraordinary because she had to go through hell to find them.

Her life was turbulent. Born in a decaying northern town to a dysfunctional family in the 1960s, Mary Anne had to endure mental, physical, and sexual abuse and cope with the devastating effects of parental alcoholism and suicide. She had her self-esteem and confidence crushed by two disastrous marriages, and she lives with the emotional and physical scars caused by a surgical procedure which has become the medical scandal of our age: mesh implants. But, despite everything, she always remained determined to endure and to find something better.

It’s not often I get to post about a book on the day of its release but it’s always nice to be able to do so and feel like I am a bit special.

From the very beginning the reader will find this memoir to be an unflinching and brutally honest read.  Within the pages of TGoaN you will find a range of instances of abuse, both physical and mental, it’s a relentless and a challenging read.

At the heart of the book is one woman’s attempt to make sense of events, and of the motivations for said events. The repetitive cycles of cruelty and abuse, endemic both inside and outside the family, and worst of all having this dismissed by others, or feeling so sidelined that Willow felt she couldn’t approach those in authority. Continue reading “The Grace of a Nightingale – Mary Anne Willow”

A History of Christianity – Diarmaid MacCulloch

How did the cult around an obscure spiritual teacher from Nazareth in the first century come to be the world’s biggest religion, with a third of humanity its followers?  This epic, acclaimed history follows the story of Christianity around the globe, from ancient Palestine to contemporary China.  encompassing wars, empires, reformers, apostles, sects and crusaders, it shows how Christianity has brought humanity to the most terrible acts of cruelty – and inspired its most sublime accomplishments.

Any book starting off with some etymology between Hebrew and Greek words automatically tell me that this was going to be a good book, and so it proved over 1016 pages of small print.  Its dense on facts but in a good way and has some gorgeous photos.  I learned a lot and have a lot more questions.

Is it a complete history of Christianity? No, as MacCullough is quick to establish.  I wonder if there can be such a thing, like a complete history of the Mediterranean, it just seems way too complex for a single volume, or even a single lifetime of work.  What the reader does get though is a fair, balanced and comprehensive view between supposition and fact, by a good historian who occasionally drops in a bit of dry humour along the way.

There is plenty of depth here, hundreds of names and dates, and bouncing around between time frames but it never feels overwhelming and with short chapters focussing on specifics – of both Eastern and Western churches, then beyond –  it is an easily readable if turbulent book. Continue reading “A History of Christianity – Diarmaid MacCulloch”

Murdering Books

There exists in my house a shelf which I call The Bookshelf of Guilt.  It’s reserved for all those really thick tomes that I usually avoid, not because I don’t want to read them but because they are so Big.  It’s easy to spend years shying away from these massive books that sit judging you every time you pick a ‘normal’ sized book.

Reason suggests that reading shorter books will allow you to experience more now, and will also mean more time to read the longer books ‘sometime later on’.  Let’s be honest it won’t happen, with that reasoning.

I set myself a goal to read one such big book a year, mainly because people gravitate to the largest book on a shelf and without fail ask if I have read it.  That was half the reason I got around to reading War and Peace. Choosing this time was fairly easy. The Brothers Karamazov, and The Mysteries of Paris were in the early running, to name but two but I finally I narrowed it down to a couple of philosophy books in the end.

After so many recent fiction reads it seemed sensible to mix things up a bit. My next read was chosen from the non fiction pile, and finally came down to either: Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy or Diarmaid MacCulloch’s A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. Continue reading “Murdering Books”

Force of Habit by James Scott Bell – A book Review

It’s been a while since Lyn last posted, and as it’s about books, a reblog is definitely in order.

The Call of the Pen

“A vigilante nun cleans up the streets of Los Angeles. Sinners beware.” So says the description of the first of the Force of Habit series.

James Scott Bell has written four Force of Habit tales and each one of them will have you choking on your coffee (or your Fritos.)
Force of Habit
Force of Habit 2 – And Then There Were Nuns
Force of Habit 3 – Nun the Wiser
Force of Habit 4 – The Nun also Rises

Larger than life people need to have a proper introduction, and you need to know Sister Justicia Marie – or Sister J as she is affectionately known by those outside of the Benedictine Order she belongs to. Force of Habit is a book you’ll read in one sitting. I did, and promptly downloaded the rest.

Sister J is former child star Brooke Bailey — who went the way of many child…

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A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth (Part Two)

This is a remarkable book, and big, so big in fact, that I am taking up a second post for all my remaining remarks. Starting with a quote that I really love:

“She paused by the science shelves, not because she understood much science, but, rather because she did not. Whenever she opened a scientific book and saw whole paragraphs of incomprehensible words and symbols, she felt a sense of wonder at the great territories of learning that lay beyond her – the sum of so many noble and purposive attempts to make objective sense of the world.”

There are a whole slew of characters to meet in A Suitable Boy, yet I didn’t feel confused with them at any point.  Partly this is due to my reading a little each day, retaining the thread of who is who, but the four family trees provided, and side characters who are easily associated with certain characters or places helped, and I was rarely troubled placing a character  who was returning after 200 pages in the wilderness.

Seth is a big fan of poetry and his playful rhyming couplets are seen throughout, most noticably describing each chapter, and then through the incessant creations of the Chatterji family.  There are also myriad references to various Indian mythological works which encourages a deeper reading into Indian mythology.  Sprinkled throughout are bits of the local language which was a nice touch, especially when I started to recognise what was being referred to, or which familial names were used to denote relationships.

The plot is unhurried and slowly expands to include all of life and society, it really allows the world to be shown in richness and depth.  Whether the reader thinks this much detail is relevant or not, it is certainly worth the exploration and gives the book a much more authentic feel.

There is plenty of conflict, whether it be class, religious and political divides, or generational.  Everybody has a prejudice of some sort, whether conscious of it or not.  Seth explores all sides of these, offering plenty of insight which has the capacity to bring out both sympathy or revulsion at various times. Continue reading “A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth (Part Two)”