Feb. 22nd, 2017

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Slavoj Zizek "Philosophy in Transit - Event" (Penguin)

This is what the blurb says "An Event can be an occurrence that shatters ordinary life, a radical political rupture, a transformation of reality, a religious belief, the rise of a new art form, or an intense experience such as falling in love. This book examines the new and highly-contested concept of Event."

As Zizek says, with such a myriad of definitions available, there is no choice but to take a risk and begin the journey towards understanding the concept of an “event”, a journey that Zizek likens to that undertaken by Elspeth McGillicuddy in Agatha Christie’s 4:50 from Paddington.

Elspeth McGillicuddy is the innocuous old lady friend of Miss Marple who happens to be glancing out of the train window at just the right time to see a murder committed. The whole thing happens in an instant and, her view having been obscured by the train window, no one except Miss Marple believes her. For Slavoj Zizek, the experience of Elspeth McGillicuddy is the very epitome of an “event” – “something shocking, out of joint, that appears all of a sudden and interrupts the usual flow of things.”

This is a nice, almost straightforward introduction to the subject matter of Event but things do rapidly become more complicated. Zizek expands upon this sudden, interrupting kind of event to describe how, at first, an event is “the effect that seems to exceed its causes” and that, further, the “space of an event is that which opens up by the gap that separates an effect from its cause.” Zizek considers the various different definitions of “event” and addresses fundamental questions like: “are all things connected?; how much are we agents of our own fate?; and, in a world that is constantly changing, is anything new really happening?” It is through these questions of causality that the concept of “event” ties in with one of the central questions of philosophy: are all things connected with causal links?

After discussing the differences between transcendental and ontological means of philosophical investigation, Zizek steers Event on a journey that includes stopovers considering changes or disintegrations of the frame through which reality appears to us, felix culpa (a religious fall), the reality of Buddhist Enlightenment, the power and significance of truth, the role of self, and the central elements of psychoanalysis, before finally arriving at the undoing of an event induced achievement. Zizek explains everything in a clear, almost patient, fashion and offers plenty of “real world” examples but these are still heavy topics. If I were actually reading Event on my commute then I would definitely have missed my stop.

Event is an extremely interesting book and, if accessible is not the right word, one that will have popular appeal. Zizek draws on universal references from Plato to arthouse cinema, the Big Bang to Buddhism, in order to make Event a journey into philosophy at its most exciting and elementary. Through his investigation into the nature of an “event”, Zizek has crafted a book that serves as an excellent primer to understanding philosophy and philosophical investigation in general.

jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Shusaku Endo "Silence" (Picador)

I have extremely mixed feelings about this book. It is one of those given tome by my bother.

On the one hand, it is an intense and penetrating look at the travails of a Catholic missionary in 17th century Japan, after Christianity has been outlawed and its believers subjected to torture, and a deep and thought-provoking meditation on the meaning of faith. It is also beautifully written, and provides a vivid portrait of Japan as seen through Portuguese eyes as written by a Japanese author.

On the other hand . . . I not only have difficulty comprehending this depth of faith but also, as a non-Christian pro-aestheticism curmudgeon, I have never been able to understand the extensive, if not extreme, proselytising of Christianity, the need to convert as many others as possible to its beliefs. It seems patronising to me: "we know what's best for you."

These feelings coloured my reading of the book because, while I was appalled by the Japanese methods of torture (although torture has certainly been practised by those professing to be Christians too), I could understand why they wanted to keep such a foreign (and colonising) religion out of their country. Nor do I understand the appeal of martyrdom. I also found a little peculiar the way the protagonist, Father Rodrigues, seems to compare his suffering to that of Jesus, and his betrayer to Judas. Perhaps this would not be disturbing to someone who is Christian, so perhaps this reflects a lack of understanding on my part, but it seems a little self-aggrandising to me.

The overall question, of the silence of God, is more interesting. The 20th century, when this book was written, was a century of evil and suffering on a huge scale, and therefore this question is of even more import now than it was when Father Rodrigues travelled to Japan. Additionally, Endō, himself a devoted Catholic, alludes to the issue of how a western religion like Christianity can adapt itself to an eastern culture like that of Japan. Had he explored this more, I might have found more to like about the book.

As it is, I can only think that, throughout the centuries, not only have people of various religions persecuted and killed people of other religions but, as my father liked to say, more wars have been fought over religion than for any other reason (not sure if this is strictly true). I wish I could say this book helped me understand faith more, but it left me just as puzzled and perplexed. Perhaps Marx is right after all,that religion is the opium of the people.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
John Le Carre "The Looking Glass War" (Penguin Modern Classics)

I actually started reading this late December , and just finished recently,a reflection of this being not one of his best.

John Le Carre follows up The Spy Who Came In from the Cold with this more realistic take on the mundane, and inane, world of cold war espionage. The brief sparks of idealism occasionally present in the previous book is replaced here by an almost pervading cynicism as rival intelligence agencies compete for resources, with the fading military intelligence operation, the Department, snatching at the flimsiest of leads in an effort to prove their relevance compared to the political intelligence agency, the Circus. In doing so, lies are believed to the point where they become indistinguishable from truth, careers are made or broken, assets, including men, are wasted.

This is where the more modern Le Carre began to take shape, introducing a brand of scepticism that can only be wrought by a former insider. At the time of its publication in 1965 it was excoriated by critics and did not sell nearly as well as its predecessor, not surprisingly since it was not in the mode of the rah-rah spy novels in vogue at the time. Sadly, as evidenced by the dysfunction revealed in the 9/11 investigations, clumsy, uncoordinated intelligence agencies incapable of working together still rule the world with disastrous consequences. The writing is less polished, but here lies the germ of the style that would become Le Carre's hallmark in the Quest for Karla trilogy, which is probably his best known novels. I shall be reading these at some point ,although i have read "Tinker TailorSoldier Spy" before.

So in conclusion, not one of the best Le Carre novel but still good.


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