Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Library book sale!

It's that time of year again! (Actually they do it twice a year, April and October.) Let's see if I can remember the order in which I picked them up.

Right off the bat I headed to the Religion section – because that's where the philosophy books would be if there are any this time. The first book I snagged was not one of these.

Martin Marty – Martin Luther (2004)

This is from the Penguin Lives series of biographies. I read the Proust one, which was pretty good. I look forward to learning from Professor Marty where exactly "here" is, where Luther was standing (metaphorically speaking). And of course I'm always up for a good Diet of Worms joke (yuk!)

Ralph Walker – Kant (1999)
Roger Scruton – Spinoza (1999)

These are from the Routledge series "The Great Philosophers". Even at six bucks (list price; I paid 15 cents), they're kind of a rip (50+ short pages), but some of them are interesting. I've got the Schopenhauer, Derrida, and Collingwood ones already (never gotten to them in fact, but the Collingwood one looks good, by Aaron Ridley I think). Walker's essay is on the moral philosophy, while Scruton's is a general intro to his guy.

The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila By Herself (1562, trans. 1957)

Another Penguin book, this time a Penguin Classic, with the Bernini sculpture on the cover. Check out the typically off-the-wall episode on that work in Simon Schama's series Power of Art. (I haven't seen the Van Gogh episode, with Andy Serkis; that ought to be good – "the crowses, they wants us, gollum!").

Right, St. Teresa. The famous sculpture depicts her recumbent; but as you may know, that wasn't always the case, as editor J. M. Cohen recounts in his introduction:
There are several descriptions by her fellow nuns of moments when they saw her with glowing features, writing as if at a heavenly dictation. But not all the supernatural states that possessed Teresa were equally welcome to her. She herself tells how, in prayer, she would be lifted into the air, to her own consternation and to the alarm of those sisters who were praying beside her in the choir.

These mysterious levitations were matched after her death by the equally mysterious incorruptibility of her body. Both are well-known phenomena which occur in the histories of many saints and that can only be accounted for by some actual change in the physical structure that takes place at the same time as spiritual transformation. In Teresa's case the fragrance that surrounded her uncorrupted body led to most disgraceful results. In the wild rush to acquire sacred relics, various of her limbs were torn from her corpse. Her old friend Father Gracián, who had only lately so disappointed her by failing to accompany her on a journey, inaugurated her dismemberment by cutting off one of her hands.
Eww. The next book I espied was a nondescript-looking volume with a plain brown cover:

Swami Vivekananda – Jnana-Yoga (1961)

This is from the Advaita Ashrama imprint out of Calcutta (price: Rs. 3/4). According to Wikipedia, Vivekananda lived from 1863 to 1902 (an anti-Yankee Doodle Dandy, died on the Fourth of July), and introduced Yoga to America at the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893. Here are the last two stanzas of the opening selection, "The Song of the Sannyasin":
Few only know the truth. The rest will hate
And laugh at thee, great one; but pay no heed.
Go thou, the free, from place to place and help
Them out of darkness, Maya's veil. Without
The fear of pain or search for pleasure, go
Beyond them both, Sannyasin bold! Say––
"Om Tat Sat, Om!"

Thus, day by day, till Karma's powers spent
Release the soul for ever. No more is birth,
Nor I, nor thou, nor God, nor man. The "I"
Has All become, the All is "I" and Bliss.
Know thou art That, Sannyasin bold! Say––
"Om Tat Sat, Om!"
I assume "Om Tat Sat" means something like "Tat Tvam Asi" (thou art that; though apparently on one interpretation it means "thou art not that". Go figure.).

Michelle Goldberg – Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism (2007)

The cover blurbs on this one use phrases like "civil liberties under siege by holy rollers," "take over America," "potent wake-up call," and "terrifying," as well as a lot of other heavy breathing. I dunno. I guess I'll read it though. It's pretty short.

Mark Epstein, M. D. – Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart: A Buddhist Perspective on Wholeness; Lessons from Meditation and Psychotherapy (1998)

I think one subtitle is plenty here. Anyway, it seems that "the Western notion of self is deeply flawed [...] Happiness comes from letting go." This looks to be breezy personal reflections rather than a learned tome.

Robert Linssen – Living Zen (trans. 1958 (from French))

This one, on the other hand, seems to be more in the learned tome mode. From the Introductory Note:
If Zen is approached with the usual mental attitude, it will seem quite incomprehensible. Our average Western intellectuality would consider its paradoxical language simply as a play upon words. Its full significance is revealed only when we approach it in a different manner, making our minds available to the new processes of inner perception which it suggests. [following sentence underscored by previous owner] A certain flexibility of thought is necessary so that the study of a new subject may be fruitful and revealing.
Later on [p. 81]:
Reality Transcends the Duality of 'Mobile and Immobile'

A clarification of our views on the problem of movement is desirable. Without this there might seem to be a number of contradictions.

It may be said with good reason, that movement is a function of time. As Kant expressed it: 'We create time ourselves as a function of our receptive apparatus.'

This is obvious.

Therefore we must make it clear that in the preceeding lines we have considered movement as the essence of phenomenal reality.

The complete Reality of the universe includes the phenomenon and the noumenon. It is neither movement, as we know it in the manifested universe, nor immobility, as suggested by the mind (that is to say the notion of immobility in opposition to our idea of movement).

It is obvious that Reality Itself, in its entirety, is beyond the traditional oppositions of mobility and immobility.

Moreover these divisions are arbitrary. The experience of Satori is a result of emancipation from the arbitrary practice of partitioning our mind.

It is absolutely useless and vain to try and imagine or think of a reality that includes and dominates at the same time the two aspects of mobile and immobile. All discussion in this field leads us astray.

Got that? Write that down. (As John A. Davison would say.)

Nice Zen garden on the cover. (Not this one though.)

Mortimer Adler – Six Great Ideas (Special TV Issue, 1981)

That part about this being a TV Issue refers to the genesis of this book in interviews with Bill Moyers (fun fact: Moyers was LBJ's press secretary for two and a half years). Check out the back-cover picture of Adler with Moyers in Aspen, both perched on what I can only assume is the latter's motorcycle. Holy frijoles, what a time capsule. The hair, the leisure suit, the goofy grin – Bill, Bill. The eighty-ish Adler looks comparatively distinguished in his frumpy suit pants (no jacket or tie; it's probably hot out), gesturing forward past Moyers's unheeding rightward-facing pose, as if to say, get us out of here, you freak.

As for the text, I think last time I picked up Adler's Ten Philosophical Mistakes, believing that one to have more entertainment value. But I'm sure that since one of the G. I.s here is "Truth", this one will have its, uh, moments as well. At least this one doesn't bill Adler, as I believe the other one does, as "America's Foremost Philosopher." Dear God, could that ever have been true?? The mind reels.

Basil Willey – The English Moralists (1964, paperback ed. 1967)

The title phrase appears on the cover of this book no fewer than five times, as if someone is practicing calligraphy or something. Whatever. It actually begins with Plato and Aristotle (who were not English at all), but by chapter 9 the author feels that we are sufficiently prepared to encounter Bacon, followed by Hobbes, the Cambridge Platonists, Sir Thomas Browne (a mere "note" for this guy), Locke, Shaftesbury, Addison, Hume, Chesterfield, Burke, and Coleridge.

Whew, that's enough for now. That was just the Religion section. Tune in next week (or whenever I get to it) for the rest.

2 comments:

LC said...

I vaguely recall watching the S Schama episode on Bernini's sculpture of St Teresa. I would call it perhaps reductive (the sculpture is all about sex, was the message as I recall it), but not totally off-the-wall. (My memory of the Schama episode is a bit vague, so perhaps this comment is off-the-wall.)

Duck said...

The way I remember it, Schama was pretty good at not simply pointing out the obvious eroticism of the sculpture. The off-the-wall-ness I refer to was more in the line of punching up the soap-operatic aspects of Bernini's life (his mistress, his feud with Brunelleschi, etc.). Check the imdb link for a reader review to that effect.