Friday, October 30, 2015

Oíche Shamhna ag imeall an Brú na Bóinne

Tá Lena agus mise in Uladh anois. Thug muid cuairt go dtí ár mac is óige ina Colaiste na Bhaird ina Stáit Nua-Eabhrac ar feadh ag deireach na tseachtaine seo caite. Ansin, eitil muid go dtí mBaile átha Cliath cúpla lá ó shín.

Go tapaidh, d'fhág muid an t-aerphort. Thiomaint muid go Droichead Átha. Chuir cuairt leis ár chairde, an chlann Mac an tSaoir.

Mar sin d'fhan muid in aice leis a dteach, fheadfaidh muid ag caint leis an teaghlach níos mó. Labhair mé leis an fear chéile agus an bean chéile le chéile, mar shampla, agus bhuail Lena na paiste go léir. Bhí mé ag plé leo as Gaeilge beagán, freisin.

Inne, d'imigh ár chairde. Bhí brón orainn, ach is gá duinn chun freastal air ár chairde eile i gCorrdubh i gContae Muineachán. Dá bhrí sin, bím ag scríobh an aiste seo an óiche roimh na h-Oíche Shamhna ina Teach Mór na Coill-a-Lios i Liosnalong, idir na bhaile na Muineachán agus Cabhan.

Bain sult as againn an faoin tuath anseo; chuaigh muid riamh go mBrú na Bóinne ach bhí an turas dúnadh ann. Is ciúin é thart anseo agus níos dorcha faoi an gealach beagnach lán, gan amhras. Amárach, beidh sé an lá roimh Samhain; b'fhéidir, is féidir liomsa féin a fheicéail ar an bhearna isteach na Saol Eile.

Halloween's Eve near the Boyne.

Layne and I myself am in Ulster now. We visited our younger son in Bard College in New York State during last weekend. Then, we flew to Dublin a few days ago.

Rapidly we left the airport. We drove to Drogheda. We paid a visit to our friends, the McIntyre clan.

Because we stayed near their house, we were able to speak to the household (family) more. I spoke with the husband and the wife together, for instance, and Layne met the children all. I spoke with them both in Irish a bit, too. 

Yesterday, we left behind our friends. We were sad, but we have a need to meet our other friends in Corduff in Co Monaghan. Therefore, I write this entry on the night before the night of Samhain's eve in Killyliss Country House in Lisnalong, between the towns of Monaghan and Cavan.

We are enjoying the countryside here; we went to Newgrange but the tour was full. It is quiet around here and darker under the nearly full moon, for sure. Tomorrow, it will be the eve of Samhain; perhaps, I may see the gap into the Other Life. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Terry Eagleton's "Culture and the Death of God": Book Review

I figured, despite the difficult content, that hearing these lectures on audiobook might ease their delivery. I like Terry Eagleton's work, and I always mean to read more. The Meaning of Life, for instance, is on my Kindle, where I am saving it up still, having already studied its final chapter.

But the subject matter is challenging. Eagleton's wit is subdued, after early on a joke at the expense of Birmingham. He hones in on not the "death of God" so much as his replacement, high European culture. The kind of thinking that George Steiner represents the last generation to have espoused.

This arose earlier than the Enlightenment, but that period, for the French and the Germans, gave it its fullest diffusion. Many Germans crowd these pages, along with the sometimes somewhat more familiar French. Eagleton looks down on the likes of Diderot and Voltaire, for they suffer the hypocrisy of many of their peers. For they speak a 'double-truth': they claim the masses need religion for its calming messages and social utility. The elite, of course, can rise to a higher worship of reason.

Yet, as Eagleton astutely notes, Deism roused no martyrs. He constantly defers to, or better still champions, the Gospel message as liberation theology (even if he steps aside from this phrasing). His Christ comes to afflict the comfortable and to condemn the authorities, taking up the side of the poor.

If one wonders if this is a selective interpretation of biblical verses, one will end this book unenlightened. Eagleton employs these talks to promulgate his own insistent reading of Jesus as a revolutionary. As the modern times impinge, and Nietzsche's own shameful (in Eagleton's view) capitulation to the 'double-think' standard proves that even he is not worthy of acclaim, the book shifts into a rapid look at those such as T.S. Eliot who attempted to make the aesthetic the norm. But, being Christian, that cohort also falls short for Eagleton. He wedges into our own age, divided between a secularized and educated class and many billions (some with degrees and high incomes, surely, a factor he skims past) who continue to integrate, however irrationally to this professor's rigorous if somewhat numinous preferences for his own Christ-figure, faith with achievement.

Eagleton nods to the resurgence of Islam and Christianity in many poorer parts of the world, not so much again as forces calling for the kind of radical overthrow of the power system, but more as a way to live in a complicated world more simply. I reckon more on Marx might have helped his explication, but his promotion of Nietzsche as the central figure in this short study leaves us moderns somewhat imbalanced. After a lively if brief look at earlier Irish dissident (if renegade Protestant convert) thinker John Toland, the reader wants more such figures to energize these dense chapters.

Instead, it's less intoxicating. Eagleton crams a lot into these sections, but he often does not explain who the figures are beyond their dates of birth and death, leaving a reader (and even more a listener) curious or confused. Some transfer of lofty content to a common if smart reader was necessary, but these lectures, transcribed as I suppose they originated, go over the heads of many who could have benefitted from a more streamlined, listener-friendly, version of what remain engaging ideas and an intellectual history on a topic that an audience needs to hear, as believers, skeptics, or seculars. 
(Amazon US 10-30-15. P.S. 2012 interview at the Oxonian Review with Eagleton on this book)

Monday, October 26, 2015

John Boyne's "A History of Loneliness": Book Review

“Sure the mammies pushed us all into it.” Early in John Boyne’s novel, Father Odran Yates blurts out this explanation to the Archbishop of Dublin about why so many men once entered the priesthood there. A History of Loneliness dramatizes Father Yates’ (and given his insistence on keeping up appearances, it’s either Odran to his family or Father Yates to everyone else, not Father Odran) determination to continue as a good man. This becomes tougher during the last thirty-five years, as Ireland reacts to revelations of sexual abuse by too many in the clergy, and the government-sponsored collusion in shielding offenders from justice. Starting with his admission into the seminary as a teenager in 1973, up to the 2013 realization of his complicity in enabling his classmate, Tom Cardle, to avoid accounting for his own crimes against young men, Father Odran, in Boyne’s narrative, leaps back and forth in time as he tells us his story. He and Tom are men with a “history of loneliness” who have found their long-held position in Irish society erode, as challenges to traditional power have undermined the status of the Catholic Church.

Boyne carefully examines Father Odran’s predicament. While as a young man, he was brought up by his widowed mother to believe he had a vocation, he admits that this calling suited him nonetheless. He was brought up in the last generation to regard the priesthood as a respected career, and in the early 1980s, on a crowded train, the young priest resents the fawning attention given him, constantly, by all whom he meets. Wishing for everyone to leave him alone, he wonders “how a small twist of white plastic could inspire so much devotion.” He remembers, as always in public, that he wears his clerical garb. He chats with a Jewish refugee from the Holocaust, who reminds him not to resent those who pay him respect. “And one day that might change. And then there will be no more food for your friends. And you will all go hungry.” This moment will come two decades later, after the reports on clerical abuse and state cover-ups will enrage many Irish men and women. How one priest shifted from the moments of praise to the years of contempt creates a fluent narrative, through moral heft and measured judgments. While it wobbles through digressions, the central character holds one's interest.

Terrified of difference, seeking conformity, a few idealistic or resigned young men entered the seminary. Some found themselves pressured, as in Tom’s case, to remain there despite their unfit nature for the priesthood. Boyne illustrates the demands placed on those channeled into the clerical system, and the indifference with which many were treated by their superiors in the hierarchy.   The archbishop responds to Father Odran’s question in 2007 about Tom’s guilt in the crimes for which he is accused: “you can go back to your precious school and teach the little bastards about respecting the church.”

Soon, however, the Archbishop is disgraced for his own role in the abuse scandal, as he moved priests such as Tom about from parish to parish for decades, to evade accounting for his sins.  At his classmate’s trial, Father Odran notes the prevalence of black in the courtroom. He and the judge share “the pigment of power” in their garb; Tom appears in layman’s attire. His classmate reflects: “Of course the shades in my profession changed as one advanced through the ranks, from black to scarlet to white; darkness, blood, and a cleansing at the very top.” Boyne’s way with a phrase works well here, and the ease with which the author intersperses an occasional analogy or image into the priest’s first-person narration convinces the reader of the self-awareness of Father Odran about his own difficulties with his role. 

While a backstory placing Odran as a seminarian during his last terms of study in Rome, serving as a papal assistant in the Vatican chambers in 1978, the year of the three popes, remains a somewhat melodramatic if clever device engineered to account for his subsequent lack of rank in the Irish power structure, it does feature a sympathetic portrait of the Patriarch of Venice. Cardinal Luciani treats Odran kindly. This thoughtful man reigned for a month as Pope John Paul I. His predecessor, Paul VI, ends his only conversation with the seminarian by asking the unanswered query: “What will we do with Ireland?”

The answer comes after more popes, as the Vatican’s corruption reveals the Church’s inability to justify its control, given clerical misdeeds and a culture of protecting its own against the law and the laity.  Father Odran hears Tom’s plea of not guilty and feels a “darkness stirring” about his own fault, “for I had seen things and I had suspected things and I had turned away from things and I had done nothing.” Again, the direct style Boyne uses to convey his protagonist’s epiphany keeps the reader listening to Father Odran, but also able to distance an ethical reaction to his self-realization as it unfolds, after he has suppressed it for decades, from the seminary on. He struggles with how to treat Tom: “If I cannot see some good in all of us and hope that the pain we all share will come to an end, what kind of a priest am I anyway? What kind of man?” Throughout the narrative, Father Odran strives for decency, but he appears to have done so too quietly, as he has been spared the torments of some of his sexually frustrated or temperamentally warped colleagues, for the most part. Yet, he suffers, as this novel shows.

The guilt Father Odran finally articulates eludes facile resolution. Boyne leaves him at the end of this novel lamenting the current state of his homeland. In 2013, at fifty-eight, Father Odran speaks perhaps for his author and for many Irish who watch as European bankers intervene to impose austerity measures. Neither politicians nor priests command respect any more. Ireland has become “a country of drug addicts, losers, criminals, pedophiles, and incompetents.” Among them, Father Odran finds himself despised, as a survivor of clerical abuse hisses “pedophile” at him, not the only time in this narrative. 

Boyne’s story is recommended, along with Kevin Holohan’s satirical 2011 take on this serious subject, The Brothers’ Lot, as a depiction of the institutional breakdown of a pillar of Irish society. The fall of the Church from grace has received belated scrutiny by journalists and historians.  But for fictional treatments, which allow us to enter the minds of those who entered the ranks of the clergy under the pressure or cajoling of mothers once not long ago, A History of Loneliness fulfills a need for a novel on this timely, sad, subject.

This appeared in altered and shorter form on Spectrum Culture 2-5-15. See also Amazon US 2-2-15.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Charles Taylor's "A Secular Age": Book Review

The first half of this massive 2007 study by a Canadian philosopher has appeared as Gifford Lectures, the prestigious Scottish series which since 1888 has featured leading thinkers discussing "natural theology." In the third and fourth paragraphs of his preface, Taylor admits the sketchiness of much of what follows, and his determination nonetheless to map out a vast intellectual terrain, in hopes others will fill in the blanks. While the results may frustrate those who find his habitual enumeration and his tendency to go two steps forward and one step at least back, as he zig-zags across the past five centuries, and while the prose leaves one wishing for the grace of his predecessor at the Lectures, William James, it nonetheless represents a formidable achievement that kept me thinking, annotating, and reacting.

As Taylor does often, one must sum up his argument by his own numbers.
David Ewart paraphrases Taylor's three stages of secularism thus:
  1. "The first stage is characterized by the withdrawal of the religious world-view from the public sphere. This is the result of much more than just the rise of scientific world-view. This is the disenchantment of the cosmos. Secularism is the move from the enchanted reality to the de-enchanted reality - this freed science to follow its own trajectory. In an enchanted worldview science, politics and religion all shared the same world view. When that enchanted world-view disappeared science became free to follow its own rationale.
  2. The second stage is seen in the decline in personal religious practice and commitment. This is a individual's withdrawal from the community. People shift the source of meaning away from external 'eternal' sources to more personal choices.
  3. The third stage is the most recent development, which has caused a fragmentation of our ideas of social order. This is the shift in the culture away from assuming Religious Faith is the norm, or the default expectation of how to live your life. Faith is now one option among many. This is society living in a universe which has no central point around which it revolves."                 

Some of this, of course, is familiar. Max Weber's theory of "disenchantment" as driving secularism inspires Taylor's first parts of his schema. But he denies "subtraction theory" as the fullest explanation for why people don't believe like they used to. Simply saying religion retreated as science advanced leaves us wondering about the contested turf, for the same pre-modern landscape did not exist, for two worldviews to fight over. Instead, since 1500 or so, Taylor accounts in part three of his stages for the key difference making his analysis fresh. He shows how a "buffered" sensibility in modern people supplanted the "porous" reception of impacts and influences which characterized our forebears. They saw themselves as open to the spirits for better and worse; the divine bulwark of intercession and protection helped people withstand trouble and attain reward. A "buffered" identity keeps us at a distance; we can no longer be "naive," whether believers or skeptics, in a system where the "cosmos" ordered by God or gods becomes a "universe" which includes us, but removes most contemporary adherents from the nearby intercession and interference of an intimate divine presence.

This hefty narrative stumbles along. Taylor keeps glancing ahead and then looking back as he tries to progress. He does not translate all of the French and German he cites. Some thinkers or scholars are not credited except by surnames. Taylor presumes erudition on his audience's part, so academic references may lack context or introduction. Quotes may not be integrated or identified clearly. Endnotes are uneven: they can provide valuable insight, or they can be terse and formulaic; the reader of the text proper, from that alone, may have no idea which without checking out each enumeration. Sharper editing would have improved this. This thesis did not need a hesitant, repetitive elaboration.

However, it gets easier halfway in. The Victorian doubters (even before Darwin, and this is Taylor's point proven, for it was not as if one day evolution shoved aside faith for believers) such as Carlyle, Arnold, and his niece, novelist Mrs. Humphry Ward (the last in a novel about a clergyman's unease with his creed and his replacement of a messianic Jesus-as-God with an ethical figure as a model) emerged on behalf of those unable to countenance childlike faith. This era's gradual slip, starting with these intellectuals, from confidence in religion to grudging or fuller conviction in modernism means that the Enlightenment, Counter-Enlightenment and Romanticism, and political- economic changes in the "North Atlantic" (his term for "the West") had to precede "science" as we know it. That transition and reorientation sets us in a universe edging on darkness, rather than an ordered cosmos full of light.

The conditions for "human flourishing" alter any modern believer or non-believer's reception of the religious messages we inherit. Taylor in his later chapters considers the difficulties of the therapeutic (human-potential movement, therapy, transformation from within) and transgressive (anti-humanist, Nietzschean, revolutionary) responses to religious hegemony, as neither to him satisfy the yearning. This inner longing persists no matter if the conditions for religion fade, and while Taylor never appears to question his own Catholicism or the reality of the Incarnation, he examines how the opposite, an "excarnation," has weakened the ability of many believers or skeptics to handle the needs of the body, from which we have become detached, dismissive, or destructive. He looks with caution at regarding only what Jesus taught and not what Christ did, and while Taylor's faith persists a priori, I would have liked the professor's insight into why this is so for him; this appears to limit the applicability of his lessons to non-Christians. Whatever one's identity, Taylor locates the loss of the "equilibrium" most of us need between fervor and denial; if not religion as we've known it, he reckons desire for the transcendent beyond existential limits or hedonistic immersion may endure.

He suggests that poetry, as in Jeffers, Hopkins, or Péguy, might heal the divided contemporary consciousness. He applauds church reform, but he also sympathizes with those who find, whether they themselves believe, in a weaker cultural impact for this force. Younger people are losing "some of the great languages of transcendance," and "massive unlearning is taking place" in consumerism.

In conclusion, neither "exclusive humanism" nor the Nietzschean revolt against restrictions convince Taylor. His drifting final section passes intriguing terrain. Part 5:17 has a great survey of how Christianity incorporated violence into its purportedly peaceful preaching, and death and sexuality earn attention in this chapter. But that ends not with a bang but some whispers about two stories we share. "Intellectual Deviation" tracks our cultural evolution away from medieval religious conformity imposed by a clerical elite and then upon a post-1500 community freed from "priestcraft" but a regimen insisting on communal piety, into "the rise of a culturally hegemonic notion of a closed immanent order". "Reform Master Narrative" required all to be 100% Christian, but this discipline discouraged many. The elite looked to Providential Deism as a halfway point to a mechanical model that broke away from the need for a Creator, and by the Victorians, this began to spread into the middle classes. While many adhere to fundamentalism and obedience today (an aspect under-examined in what is admittedly a rambling study and one far too long as it is), Taylor combines the theoretical ID with the RMN mass phenomenon explanations as two influences making up the "social imaginary" we all agree has replaced in the North Atlantic civilization the state-clerical polity. This prepared the way for Darwin (Marx and Freud are barely mentioned!) and the massive shifts in contemporary mindsets. Out of this two-track path, we emerge. So, we can "explain religion today."

(The above appeared with my reduced summation of the Ewart enumeration at Amazon US 1-2-15.) P.S. The Divine Conspiracy provides a pdf (search at the site) of Taylor's introduction and of Chapter 10 "The Expanding Universe of Unbelief."

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Miri Rubin's "The Middle Ages: A Very Short Introduction": Book Review

Very straightforward. In 120 pp. of text, this London-based medieval historian applies her knowledge to chapter 1's overview of a time in the "middle" according to the Renaissance humanists, but of course continuing from the Roman times into that early modern period with less disruption and more continuity than supposed. Rubin stresses the more seamless and less dramatic divisions that permeated a long medieval period, in some areas ending as early as the 1300s and in others going as far as into the 1800s.

Chapter 2, "People and their life-styles" covers such issues as what colorful clothing men, women, and children wore respectively in Norse Greenland, and then on the next page, shows how the medieval notions of the humours effected what people were expected to do and how they were assumed to act on their nature. She often, as her sources show, draws on very specialized monographs for her examples. These may not be that accessible to general readers, but she does provide recent studies by scholars of each topic. While literature and popular culture may not earn as much attention, and while philosophy and theology are submerged, this remains a quick primer.

"The big idea: Christian salvation" comes next, and unsurprisingly Rubin shows how this filtered into all walks of life. The illustrations of sculpture and art are well chosen to enliven the impact of Christian piety upon the masses. Similarly, "Kingship, lordship, and government" treats this subject briskly, if in less space. I found the religious element more stimulating, by contrast. The effects of belief and popular piety gain verve, while the theories of how rulers dominate felt more stolid.

"Exchange, environments, and resources" looks at the environmental impacts. The use of the forest (as she tells, from the Latin for "outside,") is deployed here to show woodland management. Rubin reminds readers how rather than untamed wilderness, the woodlands were often a locale of careful attention and frequent visits by many people from different ranks and for diverse reasons.

"The 'Middle Ages' of 'others" treats not only Muslims and pagans in passing, but the persecuted Jews. Their precarious position, as they found themselves dependent on rulers, was difficult. Often they had to convert and even then, as in Spain, they remained under suspicion. Maneuvered into go-betweens for finance and trade, they were often pawns of unscrupulous Christian regimes.

Finally, "The 'Middle Ages' in our daily lives"  suggests in universities, especially, ties to our own times. As Rubin says, the Middle Ages can be manipulated for unions and radical reform, or for conservative and traditional lifestyles. Its thousand years, here summed up rapidly by necessity, suggest a period as complicated and free of stereotype as any other for our European ancestors.
(Amazon US 5-8-15)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Johannes Fried's "The Middle Ages": Book Review

The Western world's "progression towards a culture of reason" over a thousand years, between classical decline and colonial ascendance, results in this dense but readable narrative. In about five hundred pages, Frankfurt historian Johannes Fried tells the story of the Middle Ages. He emphasizes the mental as well as material shifts necessary to understand this transitional epoch, even as he blurs its beginning and endings. Rejecting neat chronology, Fried favors the evolution of rational mentality.

He begins with Boethius, the last of the classical thinkers. A Christian but also a Neoplatonist, he was among the final generation connected to the legacy many in the Church sought to eliminate. Fried defines the Catholic replacement for thought by its avoidance of abstraction, a loss of systematic or categorical organization, and a lack of "mental acuity and of methodically controlled thinking". Visions and dreams swayed decisions for all.

Pope Gregory the Great exerted papal ambitions early on, even as he favored faith rather than the faint lessons of the crumbling classical learning which he inherited. Furthered by an alliance with the Franks, Rome's resurgent clerical power extended as its protege Charlemagne united the Christian West. Fried, in this very German-centric study, details from his native heartland the impacts of European unity. The Holy Roman Empire sought to continue Rome's complicated legacy, creating a lingua franca of Latin for its relatively educated court. Classical texts began to be preserved. The motto of "knowledge before action" inculcated order into the Carolingian schools. A rational modus operandi began, as time was studied and human activity within it was appreciated for its own sake. This nudged a retreat from portents and miracles as if guides for living.

This shift from divinely inspired to logical paradigms did not happen quickly. Fried's notable, if inevitably submerged, contribution in such an immense book comes from his attention to mentalities. Kings "would explain their motivations by means of signs, gestures, and rituals" in Carolingian times. Millenarian fears grew as the dreaded apocalyptic year of 1000 neared. Systems by which the living could remember the dead, and intervene to accelerate the entrance of the departed into heaven, spurred ecclesiastical renewal. Monastic innovations, legal classifications, clerical and royal reforms ensued. The "two powers doctrine" of separating priests from prelates to rule the Earth became contentious. Throughout, Fried tracks centuries of struggle as secular forces contend against popes.

"The world was out of joint. The papacy was split, the successor to the throne of Saint Peter was preaching war, the abbot of Cluny was embroiled in the dispute between the king and the pope, the mysteries of faith were being openly questioned, there were monks preaching on the streets, and fanatical mobs roaming the countryside slaughtering Jews." So Fried sums up the situation at the end of the eleventh century, as the Crusades commenced. "Everywhere, civil war seemed to be raging while Byzantium teetered at the verge of collapse, and many believed the advent of the Antichrist was nigh--where was peace in all this, and the power of prayer and salvation?" This passage demonstrates the verve with which Fried describes medieval events, and vigor helps offset many slow passages about Ottonians and Hohenstaufens, which his German audience may appreciate more.

Fried injects a dramatic style now and then, especially when praising those who advanced reason. "This heavily persecuted individual, whose only crimes were to have fallen in love with a woman and displayed consistent reasoning--and to have openly admitted to both--this thinker who was cast adrift by his peers, but who pioneered the whole concept of free will and paved the way for the expression of human freedom and must count as one of the great minds of the world": so Fried dramatizes the influence of philosopher Peter Abélard. Peter Lewis' translation reads fluidly in such moments.

As the later medieval period began, imperial hegemony, an urban boom, usury, debtors' prisons, Islamic and Jewish learning entered the Western European experience, as feudalism began to fade. What replaced this system were nascent empires and emerging nation-states, but popes fought back. As Innocent III phrased it, his papal reign shone like the sun. Secular powers could aspire only as far as the full moon, reflecting Rome's solar splendor. The laity and clergy, eager to emulate this illumination, popularized devotion rather than learning. But this move unsettled the popes, who implemented inquisitions and spies to root out heretics, the origins of our own persecuting societies.

"All profit can be turned to salvation", in the estimate of the zealous Franciscan friars who pioneered an "ethics of money". They served as confessors to the growing mercantile and bourgeois classes in the cities. These priests tried to "alleviate the fear" that the poor brethren's wealthy patrons "felt for their eternal souls" during confession on account of their business schemes. Rediscovery of fundamental truths about human destiny stoked rational inquiry as well as doubt among the faithful. Humanists investigated nature and plumbed law and logic. Jurisprudence, coherence, and a concern for the common good grew. Marsilius of Padua and William of Ockham gain Fried's acclaim as secular proponents who challenged papal politics. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV earns Fried's admiration for his emulation of Paris, as the ruler built Prague into a center of learning and of civility.

Such progress was slowed but not terminated by the Black Death. By the end of the fourteenth century, globalization dominated the European outlook. Still, old habits persisted. "Reason thirsted after secrets, belief, and miracles; enlightenment, it seems, always comes up against frontiers that frustrate it." Fried's snappish epilogue targets Kant as a purveyor of Enlightenment canards that demeaned earlier efforts to understand the world. Fried rejects this blinkered view of the Middle Ages "as a kind of self-inflicted intellectual immaturity". Instead, he champions Abélard's "systematic doubt" as a harbinger of the truer enlightenment whose origins arise far earlier. His erudite study traces our evolution towards reason, worldwide exploration, and rational procedures to a dynamic medieval period. This is the springboard to the modern era, as innovation won out against stagnation.
(Amazon US 2-7-15 and PopMatters 2-19-15)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Nancy Brown's "Ivory Vikings": Book Review

Product ImageNancy Marie Brown, who knows the Icelandic and Norse sagas well in the original, is an ideal and enthusiastic chronicler of the modern battle among scholars to prove the Icelandic rather than the Trondheim (Norway) origin of the chessmen found on the Isle of Lewis two centuries ago. Despite the subtitle claiming "the woman who made them," careful scrutiny of her opening remarks closing her preface, and repeated in the "Queens" chapter, reveal many qualifying "ifs" and "she could have" for Margret the Adroit's crafting of the pieces.

She follows a logical set-up. The rooks title a chapter on the composition of the Lewis pieces. The bishops tell of who may have commissioned their making. Queens, of course, bring in Margret's suggested role. The pieces would have been gifts for kings. And, knights have championed their impact since the 1800s. Pawns, too, are appended, as the sources Brown draws upon and integrates.

The Vine version is a galley, so I am not sure if color illustrations will replace the monochrome ones I reviewed. But this should be a handsome book. Brown writes in a lively style, incorporating Gudmundur Thorarinson's recent argument for an Icelandic provenance for the chess pieces, and she documents the debate over the past centuries among medievalists that led to the current one. As a medievalist by training, I liked her evocation of the world of the Church around 1200, and the overlay of Viking and pagan influences that spread across the North Atlantic, along of course with these little ivory archeological treasures. (Amazon US 7-14-15)

Friday, October 16, 2015

Paul Strohm's "Chaucer's Tale": Book Review

A "microbiography" of the poet's pivotal year of 1386, Chaucer's Tale reconstructs his situation as he entered a mid-life crisis. Enjoying a rent-free lease on a dank but well-situated residence at London's Aldgate portal, benefiting from a position in Parliament, and supported by a salary as a customs controller, in his early forties, Geoffrey Chaucer would seem to have it made. Depending on noble patronage and royal preferment, this up-and-coming civil servant-turned-insider at court found himself on the outs. On the losing side, he retreated to Kent and then crafted his tales of Canterbury. Forced retirement compelled him to reinvent himself.

Paul Strohm, a retired professor from Oxford and from Columbia, enlivens the London where Chaucer was born and raised. Nearly nothing is known of his literary career from the records extant, but much is about his work for the Crown. From the hints scattered or imagined in his verse, scholars construct a parallel life in private to that of the public man who worked his way into favor, slowly.

His stony, damp cell above the key position of Aldgate in the northeast corner of the old city stands as a "symbol of his entire London experience: rather blatantly public in some respects, yet quite private and defended in others". Chaucer's intense activity contrasts with his withdrawal and retreat from the hubbub. He occupies the intersection between the urban fortified wall and the busy road into the countryside. Strohm sets Chaucer's day within hearing of church bells, from dawn to midnight at Holy Trinity Priory, near his residence. Strohm reminds us of Chaucer's placement near this pattern of liturgical time, daily followed by the monks, and of his affinity for the seasonal cycle of pilgrimage and of devotion, coinciding with the natural rhythm of springtime which opens his tales memorably.

This narrative moves back and forth in Chaucer's lifetime somewhat, to fill in the back story. In 1374, Chaucer's appointment as controller of wool customs put him into a much loftier role than that title may convey to modern audiences. The wool trade dominated English commerce as its "only significant export item". Chaucer's complicity with corrupt merchants and bureaucrats to skim off the profits was expected by his betters, if implicitly. For, his wife's brother-in-law was John of Gaunt, who had ruled as regent, being Richard II's uncle. This had its advantages, but these could prove fickle. Chaucer depended on those higher up for the favors they dispensed and as a commoner he had to accept as he moved up the career ladder more than one "constrained choice", in Strohm's phrase.

Strohm pursues clues in the archives, and digs deep into material that may appear tangential. This may weary some readers, but he uses this data to suggest that Chaucer was not tempted by any great chicanery during his customs watch. Strohm avers Chaucer laid low as London's power elite colluded to enrich themselves from the wool tariffs pocketed and from the bribes exacted from tradesmen. Chaucer did not own land. He had been set up in a safe seat as a "yes man" for King Richard II.

This necessitated Chaucer's withdrawal from the customs post. He was recently estranged from his wife. He had to vacate Aldgate, for his single term in Parliament as a "shire knight" lacking property but representing nearby Kent. This office depended on Chaucer as a loyal backer of John of Gaunt and of the Ricardian factions, but from the time Chaucer entered Parliament through 1389, discontent grew. A majority in government resented the king's control by a few courtiers. Strohm interprets this hostile course of events as shoving aside Chaucer. He prudently absented himself from London during the next two years; some of his former allies turned malcontents were executed by Richard II.

Throughout this intrigue, Strohm tries to keep the tone in tune with us. He uses the phrase "living large", he compares the Parliament's politicians in session back then to those on expense accounts at bars in Pimlico or the Beltway, he nods to the attractions of the Las Vegas strip, and he offers an analogy to Hemingway's novella about the great marlin. These asides do not jar as much as one might expect. The liveliest sections, about Aldgate and about the making of the Canterbury Tales, rush by rapidly. More on Chaucer's most famous work would have been welcome, but Strohm's end notes point to his fellow scholars who have contributed much to our understanding of this story-cycle. After all, Strohm has set himself the difficult task of setting up the assembly of the tales, not their contents themselves. Meanwhile, he reminds readers of its fine predecessor, Troilus and Criseyde.

With "no fixed job and insignificant income", Chaucer decided on not a political but a literary "riposte" to his fall from favor. "Chaucer in 1386 was eminently fame-worthy...but certainly not famous yet." Strohm shows how his forced relocation and his separation from his urban audience sparked innovation. Eager to expand his reputation, Chaucer's hidden rivalry with Italian tale-teller Boccaccio spurred the Englishman to write in his native language its first lengthy masterpiece. Strohm regards the tales as a catalyst for an "audience of his own invention" as varied storytellers became characters, emerging to share a mixture of genres and styles, high and low registers, serious and comic narratives. In Strohm's version, Chaucer had to leave London and his comfortable sinecures. By doing so, and starting all over as a writer bent on making his reputation, he attained fame after all. This account reminds us of the impact Chaucer had, by choosing our own language.
(PopMatters 2-16-15; Amazon US 2-20-15)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Go Dakota Thuas ar ais

Beidh mé i nDakota Thuas aríst go luath. Chuir mé cuairt mo priomh-turas an bhlian seo caite. Bhí sé ina Deireadh Fomhair, fós.

Cén fath? Tá mé ag dul go Dakota Thuas a thabhairt ar an caint. Tá sé faoi an clár "Clann na h-Aonrial" agus téamaí Éireannachaí air.

Measaim go beidh mé an h-am taitneamhach ansuid. Bhí maith liom ag feacháint an Chnoc Rushmore, Te Spriongaí, na buabhaill ina bPairc Stáit na Custer, Adhman Marbh, na Tailte Dona, agus na Cnoic Dubh an h-uair deireanach, mar shampla. Ach, ní maith liom a fhilleadh go an Síopa Drogaí na Bhallaí.

Chuala mé go raibh dhá teach tabhairne ansin. Tá áit amháin an ainmithe Ui Néill. Is é eile an dara ainmithe Ui Murchú in aice leis.

Mar sin, tá fhios agam a beidh mé ag dul go dtí i gCathair Tapa. Tá súil agam go raibh an leann dubh ceart ann.  Tá mé ag do is fearr, ní i gcónaí na hAonghusa.

Back to South Dakota.

I will be in South Dakota again soon. I paid my first visit there the past year. It was in October, too.

Why? I am going to South Dakota to give a talk. It is on the program "Sons of Anarchy" and its Irish themes.

I reckon it will be a pleasant time up there. I liked seeing Mount Rushmore, Hot Springs, the buffalo in Custer State Park, Deadwood, the Badlands, and the Black Hills last year, for example. But, I do not want to return to Wall's Drug Store.

I heard that there are two pubs there. The first is called O'Neill's. The second is called Murphy's nearby.

Therefore, I know where I am going when I go to Rapid City. I hope that there is the right stout there. I look for the best, not always Guinness. (Photo/Ghriangraf)

Monday, October 12, 2015

Diana Walsh Pasulka's "Heaven Can Wait": Book Review

What happens to a belief in a doctrine once those who teach that try to sidle past it, in hopes of moving on? For purgatory, the Catholic concept has always been elusive to pin down. Diane Walsh Pasulka excavates its concrete aspects. In this short but well-documented work, she reveal practitioners' views of the afterlife, of their attitudes towards the dead, and of their interpretations of Catholic history. The chapters treat the evolution of the purgatorial dimensions, over many centuries.

Pasulka examines devotional and popular culture as they intersect to inculcate and elaborate this puzzling notion. For, since it was first formulated in the Middle Ages from vague suggestions found in Scripture, to meet the demand for a transitional stage of cleansing a sinful soul before it could enter heaven, purgatory presented a problem. How to align earthly time within a waiting-room into the eternal after the specified duration of a soul's sentence has been carried out challenged the Church.

First, Catholicism long defined purgatory as "a physical place of real, not symbolic, suffering". Second, it has been clarified in the post-Vatican II era as a condition, rather than a tangible state or site, of purification. Its position in the afterlife has been occluded. Growing up, I heard my family often urge us to "offer it up for the Poor Souls". This notion captured the expectation one's own sacrifices on earth were transferred to the faithful departed. Over the past half-century, this concept has faded for the majority of Catholics now. Those who aim for an afterlife expect they'll make it into heaven, with little or no preliminary cleansing from sin. But a few Catholics try to remind others of the poor souls, who seem to have been placed there by a harsher, more judgmental, more sin-concerned Church than the one that has replaced it with cheerier assurances of divine love and God's forgiveness. Pasulka investigates those today who revive apostolates aimed at succoring souls needing earthly assistance. She precedes this section with a detailed look at the one place where medieval Christians asserted an underground cave entering purgatory existed, Lough Derg in Ireland.

As a religious studies professor, Pasulka places the concrete manifestation of purgatory within what Pope Benedict elaborated in 2005 as a "hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture". Purgatory, facing nearly the same fate as the now-discarded otherworld of limbo, languishes. The Vatican, stressing a "hermeneutic of renewal" as it reforms what it deems outmoded teaching and ritual, leaves those still believing in purgatory in a neglected niche. The bulk of this book explores these niches, as they were made real for believers in the past. These existed outside the official dogma dispensed by medieval and early-modern Rome. Whether purgatory was a literal fire or not, whether its punishments had to take place after death or during life, and the nature of the punishments as physical, mental, or spiritual were all left, in Pasulka's narrative, open to conjecture. Pilgrims to Lough Derg flocked to a place where they could endure fasting, kneel on rough rocks, and cleanse themselves of their sins.

She diligently collates archival data and scholarship on this place. However, the experiences of the thousands who still make the "stations" on this small island in Donegal today gain far less attention. The narrative favors scrutiny of previous Lough Derg events, whereas the subtitle or her book promises a focus on "devotional and popular culture". Her narrower perspective, dominated by Lough Derg's history, does not provide the reader with enough instances of how purgatory's physicality has emerged in the material practices of many Catholics, not only in Ireland but beyond, over the centuries. Instead, most of this book places Lough Derg within sectarian debates, within the Church, documented in periodicals between 1830 and 1920. These also influenced Protestant opponents.

An engaging look at the Museum of Purgatory in Rome, purporting to display proof of those who have received messages or encounters from the Poor Souls, prefaces the chapter about those desiring to revive attention to the plight of those left languishing. Pasulka summarizes a recent attempt to figure out how many of the departed need prayers. "The Mission to Empty Purgatory" uses calculations to tally how many remain in that purging place, and how many prayers are needed for their release. She adds: "The calculation also takes into consideration the number of future souls who will be in purgatory and publishes the number of prayers needed to account for the current birth rate."

Here, the tone lightens. Pasulka speaks of those she interviews, and of her own uncanny brush with the inexplicable connected to her research. If more of this study could have been given over to contemporary attitudes towards purgatory, as it recedes from many memories, the narrative would have increased its relevance for today's audience. Some typographic errors remain. The scope of this welcome view of a concept many Catholics once knew well and many non-Catholics once derided is narrower than the title promises. Perhaps other academics or theologians will return to this subject, which reminds us of how many or how few Catholics nowadays counter the "anti-materialist bias" of the Church as they insist on the reality of relics, imagery, rituals, concrete structures, and empirical evidence to support their traditional beliefs in purgatory and the connection it has with life on earth. ("How Do You Pin Down the Concept of Purgatory" to PopMatters, 7-21-15; Amazon US 8-1-15)

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Richard Kieckhefer's "Magic in the Middle Ages": Book Review

This book meets the needs of advanced students who need a introduction to this topic. Richard Kieckhefer specializes in medieval belief systems, so he is suited for this difficult subject to summarize in 200 pages. He examines magic as a "crossroads" where high and low, clerical and folk, popular and learned cultures intersect. He stresses a difference, however, between natural and demonic models.

He reminds us on pg. 16 that our data is tainted. Those attacking magic tended to record their critiques. Those practicing it tended to hide their lore from the persecutors and the client alike. And for the illiterate, their attitudes are difficult to recover, given the power of the elite over this knowledge, used both to suppress and to spread practices often outside the ambit of the Church. Yet here, too, overlap occurs, for clergy sought to learn secrets, and rituals involving magic took elements from the dominant as well as the indigenous suppositions still surviving from paganism and classics. Islam disseminated its own concepts, and so did alchemy, nascent science, and astrology. The author gives a cogent account of the last category; he captures the appeal of love charms well on pp. 81-3. (I cite the 1990 ed.)

"Historians can set up all the conceptual walls they want, but they should not be surprised when medieval people flit through them, like ghosts." (18) Magic was not the province of women, monks, or physicians. Kieckhefer follows distribution as a "common" type over much of medieval Europe.

Yet as he concludes, he turns to the witch hunts of late medieval and early modern times, and he notes how women were made vulnerable to attack. They lacked the power men had to resist, when the clerical and legal institutions were arrayed against them, and when suspicion by neighbors heightened the precarious condition of a local healer, a midwife, an herb-gatherer, or a quarrelsome village scold.

These everyday events were exaggerated into terrors perpetrated as a conspiracy of devil worshipers was imagined, and when those putting trust (and this itself is hard to measure) in spells or potions, charms or amulets, fearful of exposure, gave over the weaker among them to save their own skins. Reading Kieckhefer, as a counter to the more sensationalized depictions of this era, or the more romantic fictions, a balance for the reader will arrive, and one may want then to explore this deeper. (6-13-15 to Amazon US.)

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Paul Kingsnorth's Dark Mountain Project

Last entry, I reviewed Paul Kingsnorth's deservedly acclaimed, if harrowing and relentless, novel The Wake. Evoking by a "shadow language" adapting Old English, he conveys a first-person narration of a selfish, snobbish small-holder with big plans to fight the Normans who have invaded and ruined his land, and the nation of England itself. Kingsnorth's name seemed vaguely familiar, and I realized that I had read about him last year in this article in the NY Times Magazine, "Ït's the End of the World as He Knows It, and He Feels Fine." Ever since his teens, he has protested as an activist the destruction in his homeland, a millennium later, that never ceases. Forests fall, shopping centers rise.

What can we do? Increasingly, he viewed his fervent struggles against the Machine and Man as futile. “I’m increasingly attracted by the idea that there can be at least small pockets where life and character and beauty and meaning continue. If I could help protect one of those from destruction, maybe that would be enough. Maybe it would be more than most people do.“ He cites poet Robertson Jeffers, who also retreated from the fight, and was outcast by his peers once he spoke too loudly against Uncle Sam during WWII, its profiteering, and patriotism demanding fealty from war objectors and dissidents. He lived in Tor House on the Carmel coast, once a modest bohemian burg.

Jeffers as it happens lived as a teen near me. I found this out when researching a local history booklet to which I contributed. I find it impossible, a century later, to imagine him wandering down to a mountain-fed river, full of boulders. Plein-air artists came to the Arroyo Seco to capture its vistas. Now it's the site of the world's first freeway, built in 1941 as a scenic parkway, but all around most of it, houses (like mine, yes) soar, cars whir, and the "urban hum" of Los Angeles runs day and night.

Like Jeffers, those at this Dark Mountain Project seek renewal in a bold response to the havoc wrought by our "progress." But it isn't a political campaign, as he once hoped. (Greens, after all, flounder compromised by coalitions.) He links to this piece on his homepage, where he asks himself FAQs, too. As with any artist, he must promote his views, and like few I read, his views please mine.

The answer that resounded with me, despite the fact I suspect he's one of "those" Oxford grads pretty cocksure of himself, is below. As I saw via my friend Andrea Harcher on FB this photo the same day, and I'd been wondering about the fate of the forests in both The Wake and our own devastating era, I share his reflections. There is sentiment in this photo, and sadness on the Dark Mountain site. Both are fair responses. If you are keen, visit his page as well as his Dark Mountain Manifesto, the subject of the NYT profile. He and colleagues seek to come to literary and aesthetic terms with the end of civilization as we know it, as ecocide replaces ecology. For we stand looking down at/on earth.

What are your politics?
I used to be a political obsessive. But the older I get, the further I want to run from anything with the p-word attached. It’s partly a desire to avoid defining myself, and to allow my mind some freedom. But it’s also because ‘politics’ seems mostly to be thinly-disguised primate tribalism. I think that what we call ‘politics’ is a means of clumsily rationalising deep psychic impulses and then fighting about them. There is very little that is more fruitless than this kind of behaviour. You’re more likely to find truth in science, poetry or the caves of a desert hermit, and I’d suggest you look in all those places first.
Still, you’re going to want more than that, aren’t you? So here’s my best stab right now. It might change tomorrow.
I am left wing. That is to say that I am opposed to obscene concentrations of land, power and wealth, I instinctively favour the underdog and, like anyone else who is paying attention, I am anti-capitalist. Capitalism is the name applied to an economic and cultural machine which makes paper profits for agglomerations of private individuals by externalising its costs onto nature and the weaker bits of humanity. It functions by turning living things into dead things and calling this process ‘growth’. Capitalism is like a tank: it’s a death machine which feels safe and warm as long as you’re sitting inside it rather than in its way.
I am also right wing. That is to say that I am suspicious of ‘progress’ when that word is used to denote the onward march of the industrial machine (see above), and I think that a feeling for place and locality, history and human community, are things worth paying close attention to. I think that the State as an institution is the root cause of many of the world’s problems, and I think that the tradition of Western liberalism is decaying into a kind of self-righteous illiberalism, surrounding itself with a wall of isms and phobias in order to avoid the encroachment of inconvenient realities.
Will that do?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Paul Kingsnorth's "The Wake": Book Review

Schoolchildren, in a more Anglocentric era, used to know "1066 and all that." While fewer today may remember that year and the momentous Norman Conquest, Paul Kingsnorth retells once-familiar tales of that invasion and two years of its devastating aftermath, through the speech of Buccmaster.

In a postscript, the author explains why he chose a "shadow tongue." Kingsnorth defines his invention of an Old English counterpart that he employs, without capitalization and with a modified orthography faithful to etymology, as "a pseudo-language intended to convey the feeling of the old language by combining some of its vocabulary and syntax with the English we speak today." The results slow any reader down. Even with my knowledge of Anglo-Saxon, I found this prose forced me to halt my pace. You cannot skim this. Therefore, the writer's bold decision to force us into an alien mindset succeeds. If you enter a few chapters deep into this novel, you hear and think and feel akin to the farmers and churls who found their language, their loyalty, and their land wrenched away.

This disorientation features cleverly, through a theme pushed aside from chronicles or textbooks.  Buccmaster follows the ways of the old gods, before Christ. As a comet flies overhead in 1066, a harbinger of doom for King Harold and the Saxons, Buccmaster rejects what "is a raedel for dumb folc" for "the bocs and the preosts the bells the laws of the crist it is not lic they sae." He believes, but in the denigrated Wayland the Smith, the World-Tree of Norse lore, and the "eald" forces of nature.

He rejects "this god from a land of dust where there is no night" as a foreign import, imposed by Rome and then by the forces who bless the "bastard" William of Normandy in his assault upon England. Buccmaster, a proud landowner if, as he reminds us and his listeners constantly, of but "three oxgangs," holds in contempt those who oppose his defiance of the Church and of the new Crown. We hear events as he and his villagers do, first as rumors from afar. He knows his fate will be subsumed to that of his fellow English, but he fears weakness. For 1066 is a "year will be lic no other in the lifs of all men in this land." For Buccmaster of Holland, in Lincolnshire's fens, senses doom.

Kingsnorth's saga follows the reaction to double threats to Harold's reign. As Buccmaster's two sons are called to join the English "fyrd" of conscripts to fight a Norse rival for the throne, the narrator sees his wife "frettan lic a moth who cannot reach the bright mona through wattle." Dreams, voices, visions begin to trouble Buccmaster. Soon, a tale-teller arrives in the hamlet to announce: "geeyome has cum in scips from the frenc and all is gan." All is gone. William's scorched earth policy follows.

With the imposition of Norman rule grim tidings dominate. Buccmaster and a few followers flee to the woods for safety. They long to "becum grene lic the leafs and the grass who lifs lic the fox and the wolf who is wilde lic the hafoc and the crow with teeth what tears from the enemi small bite and small bite until all the meat is gan." (There is a glossary for some of the more elusive terms appended.) This passage shows Kingsnorth's skill at transcribing speech and thought in an innovative manner. Reading this version of English, its roots emerge and remain vivid throughout The Wake.

Being a founder of the ecological Dark Mountain Project, Paul Kingsnorth displays keen sensitivity to the natural realm that the "grene men" seek to inhabit. Norman plunder, rape, murder, and the brutality that any war incites, by cavalry or by guerrillas, make this a sobering account of resistance to colonial and papal power. Contemporary resonance to this campaign resonates, even as the author wisely keeps this within the disconcertingly pastoral settings of Lincoln and the forests around fens.

Their furtive actions will stretch on too long, as the two years of Buccmaster's maneuvers and stops wear down his small band and the reader. But this is the cost of verisimilitude, for any campaign is given over to languor, doubt, and boredom rather than rousing derring-do. As Norman fortresses rise over the garrisoned towns, "thralls mac the castel to mac them selves thralls." Kingsnorth reminds us in his afterword how 70% of Britain today remains in the hands of 1%, and he wonders how this unequal distribution of land and wealth has compromised the fortunes of his homeland ever since.

Two real-life episodes, of the rebel Hereward the Wake and the kidnapped Bishop Turold, frame this novel. But the emphasis rests with the defiant men and bloodied women in the margins. Those who watched these events linger, still anonymous after a millennium. Their tongue was torn out and grafted to French manners, Their Saxon gods capitulated. But in The Wake, their words fought on.
(New York Journal of Books, 10-8-15)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Arundhati Roy's "Capitalism: A Ghost Story": Book Review

Capitalism: A Ghost Story Arundhati Roy Haymarket Books 128 pages 22/05/2014 Bro
While still best known internationally for her Booker Prize-winning 1997 novel The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy has taken another path in her native India. Delaying her progress on a novel about Gandhi, she's a journalist on a crusade, fighting corruption and supporting populist protesters.

Capitalism: A Ghost Story elucidates the spectral voices haunting the shadows of India's capitalist glow. A hundred people own assets equivalent to a fourth of India's GDP. Politicians are corrupt. Dams wash away indigenous homelands. Troops massacre tribes in an anti-Maoist campaign. Many of the hundreds of millions of poor live on less than two dollars a day. Globalization accelerates poverty rather than easing it, Roy contends, and these recent essays document these unjust situations.

In another collection republished this year by Haymarket Press as Field Notes on Democracy, Roy admits the limitations in her fight for equality. In trying to get the facts right, she confesses, she may be reducing the "tragic scale" of suffering. "But for now, it's all I have. Perhaps someday it will become the underpinning for poetry and for the feral howl." Roy admirably turned away from a lucrative career after earning worldwide fame as a novelist, but as a crusader, she has exposed herself to charges of being a dilettante. She castigates those more affluent, her critics charge, but is she not one of them, benefiting from their largess and patronage?

Roy acknowledges her opponents and points out the good works that come from corporate philanthropy. But she attacks the way these foundations churn money towards the increase of power. "What better way for usurers to use a minuscule percentage of their profits to run the world?" It's hard to argue with this.

As to Non-Government Organizations such as the World Bank, and the Rockefeller and the Ford Foundations, the author documents examples of how they mold activists into participants. She notes the '60s evolution of "Black Power into Black Capitalism," as well as the shift which lured Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress into a congenial embrace of capitalist values. These are stories rarely heard. Right-wing health organizations and the Ford Foundation now tame the outcast Dalits in India, she illustrates. Roy predicts that with capitalism in crisis, the solutions that rescued it in 2008 from destruction will not last. "War and Shopping," as President Bush urged citizens post-9/11, will fail. The risk we face globally is destroying our planet, let alone our economy.

Part One of this brief collection provides two articles. The first charts impacts of India's massive dams. The second, as some of her previous journalism has done, tracks anti-Maoist crackdowns. Part Two takes the reader along to contested Kashmir amid fears of a Pakistani nuclear showdown. She opens up these areas of tension, but how they influence readers beyond these battle zones seems uncertain. Many of her essays are uneven. Roy has a knack for lively phrases, but her rhetoric can fizzle into mixed or clumsy metaphors. She mingles her distance as a reporter with snatches of personal encounters. This jumbles her tone, and her prose can drag on for far too long.

Additionally, in Field Notes, Roy updated a collection of her journalism with an introduction setting the entries in context. End notes tied each piece to its dates and origins in Indian publications, helping to enlighten a wider audience unfamiliar with the context. Capitalism lacks this editorial frame. Notes point readers to sources, but the essays themselves lack introductions, and for the most part Roy fails to set her crusade in a context that makes sense to a Western spectator.

Roy finally addresses such readers at the anthology's end with her 2011 speech at Occupy Wall Street. "We want to put a lid on this system that manufactures inequality," concluding, "We want to put a cap on the unfettered accumulation of wealth and property by individuals as well as corporations." In her appeal to "cap-ists" and to "lid-ites," Arundhati Roy conjures up her own spirits to rally those who turn words into action. (Spectrum Culture 9-20-15; Amazon US 9-22-15)