Sunday, September 16, 2007

Notable Reviews

A few interesting articles in this week's new york times book review.

There is an essay on "the canon wars" which gives a good summary and an overview of the heated debate on the topic. I have read Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American mind which impressed me very much when I read it (a couple of years back), at least the parts I could understand, but I guess if I read it now, I might not find its hysterical arguments about how Nietzsche, Relativism, Heidegger, Multiculturalism, Feminism, Youth Culture (rock music!), and yes, Democracy, are destroying American universities and culture all that agreeable. I actually read his other book Love and Friendship too which said pretty much the same thing. Egalitarian political movements like Feminism, with their obsession with individual rights, have turned love into a contractual relation. Etc. Instead of worrying about exploitation, oppression and inequality we should read Plato, Stendhal, Shakespeare, Austen to understand what love means and how it has transformed over time. There is also a reading list related to the debate. Bloom was a good friend of Saul Bellow whose novel Ravelstein is based on his life (I have not read it).

I think this whole debate about which author to include and which to leave is rather pointless. The focus should be to find a way to do something about the way the whole arts and humanities discipline is getting marginalised to give more space to engineering, law, finance and other such disciplines and the concomitant proliferation of the "high-IQ morons" (to use a phrase from Martin Amis) - people who are highly efficient and highly successful in what they do but are hopelessly shallow and lack even the most basic cultural, intellectual and spiritual values in their lives. That's the real crisis of culture and not why more people read Toni Morrison than Plato or Sophocles.

Yet another book on religion and politics. This time it looks a little more sophisticated. There is a very long essay adapted from the book which I haven't yet read but which looks interesting.

Also on the cover of the magazine a review of the novel The Indian Clerk based on the lives of Ramanujan and Hardy. One mathematician I want to read about is Alan Turing. Not his contribution to computational theory (that I think I already know more than my brain can manage) but rather his personal/inner life.


Falstaff said...

Sorry to nitpick, but that's Toni Morrison, not Tony Morrison.

Alok said...

oops. corrected it now, thanks.