Saturday, January 20, 2018

The March of Time


Today, my wife's marching for a second year downtown with hundreds of thousands of Angelenos, mostly women, with fewer children, dogs, and men. I reflect on the past year and more, but often since the last election, I prefer to retreat into my books, whether Kindle or print, to read reflectively.

Rather than research for my "professional development" or reviews of new titles, this aims at not an external but an interior goal. The Benedictines called it lectio divina. Catholic schools when I attended may have called it spiritual reading. Whatever the post-Catholic varietal, I need this "safe space." But it's not that. It's one where I confront hopes and fears, anxieties as well as contemplation.

My wife and friends would doubtless interject this, when I am not spewing what they regard as a jumble of reactionary-neofascist elitist populism leaning towards left-libertarianism more than conventional (!) anarchism, that I am in this natural state unless roused by work, meals, or chores.

I am choosing as the hunches move me. Julian Barnes' harrowing Nothing to Be Frightened Of was peddled a baker's dozen years ago as the first "post-Dawkins" take on mortality and our fears of death. Not sure about that, but despite or on account of his avuncular (albeit when he wrote this he was about four years older than I am now) digressions and erudite detours, his rambling ruminations and his Francophone excursions, I found his audio rendition so engrossing, listening to it in the dark before sleep, that I purchased a copy of the book. I liked the Canadian and British covers, with various Tarot/ chapbook depictions of Le Mort more fitting than the American version, which had his stereotypically featured English countenance, as Barnes (as myself if in a somewhat more Irish if also elongated physiognomy, I have been told by colleagues) looks exactly like a reader would expect.

Then I turned to my e-book public library's "if you liked this, then" options and browsed. The past year, since I discovered at last that the system had finally synched with Kindle, I've been borrowing audio and print (?) titles diligently, and I save 200 more as treats on my ever-changing moods wishlist. It's fun to preview samples, and like the bookstores where I have spent so long a part of my past life I am overwhelmed with tomes around where I type, and terribile dictu in the disarray of my garage, it's an efficient if frustrating (for there as in brick-and-mortal realm, so much is not where you want it electronically or physically--what you search for in vain only whets your appetite) pursuit.

I dutifully filled notes with many highlights of the next suggested title, the restive, grouchy (if not as acerbic as sensitive-plant critics had averred) David Bentley Hart's The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss. That formidable study (my review linked quotes extensively from Hart's dense analysis, rewarding if rambling) in an endnote directed me to the somewhat (until math and biology kicked in halfway) easier God's Undertaker investigating if religious inquiries trump materialist dogma as to if an intelligence (steady there--as agency or impetus rather than design per se?) might be discerned. Lennox as an informed scientist handles data confidently, adroitly. and commendably with modesty tempered from both and all sides, and I did enjoy his witty analogies summing up the various ways science itself calculates the immense odds against our being here at all. And it's not merely the Anthropic Principle all over again. He marshals detailed arguments and documents them.

Both Lennox and Hart share a commendable connection with Barnes and the author I will mention next. They all expect a sophisticated audience (Hart perhaps too much as his volume, the only one from a university press, expects philosophers whereas a lot of "laypeople" are curious sorts who want to know precisely where his quest aims) and they reward by upending some of our pet hobbyhorses.

Somehow I wound up no idea how (maybe one of the previous three authors quoted him) with G.K. Chesterton's 1908 Orthodoxy. Not the best title as he admitted, but he answered his foes who challenged him, after he took on the chattering classes' champions in Heretics, to respond in turn with his own metaphysical riposte. So this blend of blurred autobiography (shades of Newman's Apologia pro Vita Sua, I wonder?) and theological assertion of the necessity of paradox as the manner in which people grasp feebly the shards of the divine presence and plan in what seem contradictory fashion served as the prolific (too much, that) pundit's foray into theological discourse for the rest of us. Many admire GKC's aplomb. Fewer admit he can exhaust one's patience with his relentless reversals.

Maisie Ward's early biography of her friend, who was published by the firm of Sheed & Ward she co-founded, has been relegated as a "hagiography" in Garry Wills' first book on GKC which for all its acumen does smack as he'd admit now of the eager grad student more than the sagacious scholar he became. Apropos of saint-hailing, the blogger "Innocent Smith" offers a needed reminder that if the fringes alone claim GKC and his circle for their own cause only, this bodes not well for all.

Ward too takes pains now and then to call GKC to task, for after his conversion to the Church finally occurred in 1921, his compulsive, frenetic graphomania on top of a regular lecture circuit far and wide rendered a lot of his various genres into padded, rumbustious postures which seemed, at least to Wills, to have been set when GKC was barely in his twenties. Ward offers a nuanced portrait.

But she concurs that the quality suffered and the workload did him in, hastening his relatively premature demise. Still, late in her enjoyable consideration (if as she warns you may not want to learn all about his brother Cecil's entanglement in the Marconi case, which rivals Bleak House in its interminable litigation), she cites (anyone writing on GKC finds this necessity more than the usual subject may violate the standard 2:1 ratio I enforce for student assignments of originality to secondary material) him as usual, generously. In his talk in 1931 but perhaps printed in 1927, "Culture and the Common Peril," I found a pleasing echo of Hart's conclusion advising skillful contemplation, and Aldous Huxley's 1962 lecture to the Tavistock Institute, which I will quote after.

"The coming peril is the intellectual, educational, psychological and artistic overproduction, which, equally with economic overproduction, threatens the wellbeing of contemporary civilisation. People are inundated, blinded, deafened, and mentally paralysed by a flood of vulgar and tasteless externals, leaving them no time for leisure, thought, or creation from within themselves." GKC castigates the flood of information-but-not-knowledge, while Hart and current critics warn of our data overload empty of wisdom sifted from this inundation which a century on churns that flood into a tsunami.

About three decades after GKC's death, after more war, more automation, more standardization, Huxley reflected on his Brave New World Fordist scenario. The ultimate transformation, he opines, applies a subtler form of control than neural injections or tinkering with our bags of skin and water. Situated on the cusp of the counterculture, this speaker has been, a search of sites shows, linked by those where the far right meets the far left, and accused of conspiratorial aims. I will leave that surmise aside as I do rumors of reptilian overlords and ZOG machinations, but from the transcript: 

"There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. And this seems to be the final revolution.” It's intriguing, if aesthetically maddening considering the manner in which dodgy websites present Huxley's less, uh, assigned musings, to find then Alan Watts' further reflections. (That is, I think it's him. This infuriatingly font-crazed resource credits an Alan Watt speech, 2006.) A drawback for the inquirer persists in that so many less mainstream sources simmer on suspicious blogs and addled archives which, to say the least, fail to meet tenured types' muster.

Stick around among the formerly mocked pop cultural fans, all the same, and at least safely employed academics may come to elevate what they once cast aside, as this next author proves. I thought of another prediction when I read GKC just after quoting that Huxley passage on FB. Philip K. Dick's exponentially closer to Huxley than Chesterton (although the latter has been credited by Adam Gopnik--drawing on previous judgments I suspect--as the "pivot" between Lewis Carroll/ Edward Lear and Kafka/ Borges. Anyone familiar with the Argentine Anglophone knows his admiration for Chesterton. I'd been thrown off, three decades ago, by The Man Who Was Thursday. I want to return to it without spoilers, having vaguely remembered the ending as extremely odd even by post-Victorian experimentation in the company of H.G, Wells, one of GKC's dear foils-as-friends. I speculate if PKD might have been directed, in his own late-life Gnostic virtual reality simulation, deep in his soul by tales subsuming spiritual as well as spectral confabulations, in a steampunk age.

PKD mused not long before his own untimely demise, in of all places a dreary Santa Ana condo: "Because today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups... So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.” Re: his Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said (1974 SF novel.) He became agoraphobic but made sure to stay within walking distance of the post office and Trader Joe's, where he purchased frozen dinners and roast beef sandwiches. GKC, renowned for breadth and width, would've chuckled loud over his fellow fabulist.

PKD and I share a Californian (although he like another nearish neighbor Huxley I regard as blow-ins) curiosity about what's out there and within us. Huxley intrigues me far less as a popularizer of perennialism than as a skewed satirist; despite what many who see me think, inside lurks a touch of humor, albeit inappropriate invariably in these perpetually "outraged" and "scandalous" times these poetasters preached about all too accurately. GKC plays a shell game with rhetoric, entertaining as he instructs, but he can weary with his relentlessly paradoxical phrasing. Yet he pleases me for his "little England" outlook congenial with Tolkien and a scholar of these two men, Joseph Pearce and "distributism." Pearce and I are exact contemporaries, coming of age as exurbs paved over our childhood haunts. I anticipate naysayers of idealists and dreamers who will bring up Eric Gill (similar to Jefferson, we lecture others on their sins and not their successes) by advising a reread of John 8:7.

The Ball and the Cross, I figured, might be easier to start with, but I gave up the audio halfway in. Although Gildart Jackson tries his best to dramatize the madcap pursuits, I felt as if Heckle and Jeckle, or more precisely Tom and Jerry were bashing away at each other. You can see the warm-up for Orthodoxy: Brits landing on an island that perplexes them, lunatic asylums, lunatics, and an apocalyptic conclusion that again does not jibe with the main plot, but feels tacked on before and after, without surprise or suspense. I long for theological thrillers, a sadly neglected sub-genre I have tried to suss out from Goodreads and web inquiries but finding nearly nothing of note I have not noted. But GKC promotes a dour Scot, worse yet a humor-challenged Highland Catholic recusant, as his hero, while naturally the other Scot, an atheist bookseller, gets a few sputters of wit for his lot. I scanned the rest myself, but found it slapdash, meandering even for a brief novel, and a fusty curio.

I tried Sherlock Holmes a couple of years ago, figuring I'd delight in the Victorian London which captivates me. If I could go back in history, I'd enter the Great Exhibition of 1851 at the Crystal Palace. To my letdown, although I liked re-reading A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four, the stories did not grab me. Mysteries haven't done much for me. But talking to a close friend, I related how GKC forays led me to his favorite fictional character, James Bond, by a circuitous route through Maisie's friend Caryll Houselander, evidently a troubled type who saw visions and dreamed dreams as a Catholic convert turned mystic. She'd been left in the lurch by none other than "Sidney Reilly" (born a Rosenblum in the Tsarist pale) the "Ace of Spies" who inspired Ian Fleming's inventive 007.

My friend praised The Man Who Was Thursday as a story he'd returned to over and over with joy. Although no believer himself in what another friend of mine likes to relegate to "priestcraft," he likewise recommended the Father Brown mysteries of GKC. I've previewed online Michael Hurley's Penguin introduction and his explanation of their weird assumptions and wily craft suggests they may blend better for me than Sherlock in evoking GKC's unsettlement behind such searches for "truth." Michael Newton approves a recent BBC series, contrasting the priest with the deerstalker detective.

I have no profound wrap-up but I set down my jottings as a reminder to myself that the wanderings of whatever mind, spirit, soul and/or brain generates within me, set into type, mark wherever I'm at today. I don't call my orientation by any label or denomination or philosophy, and I leave that to academics who strive to categorize our irreducibly, incorrigible yearnings. As for me, I look ahead. Similar to Barnes, I deeply fear what may come. Like Hart, I inform myself on what others scoff at as metaphysics; as with Lennox, I try to keep up if lagging far behind with physics, if as it is for poets.

How I drift from book to book, quoteworthy utterance to dusty volume (even if digitized; public domain combined with a Kindle frees me of shelf-space guilt), remains explainable maybe to a scientist, but might a sage add a nod? As always, I ruminate. I wonder what and/or who's guiding me.

(photo credit)

Saturday, January 6, 2018

David Bentley Hart's "The Experience of God": Book Review

December | 2013 | "Sublunary Sublime"
I found out about David Bentley Hart from a review of his 2018 translation into blunt English of the clunky Greek often expressed in the New Testament. His acerbic reputation against "The New Atheists" as well as other thinkers who cross his sylvan path intrigued rather than dissuaded me, and I checked this out. This 2013 book is not a work of apolegetics, and not a defense of the proofs of God's existence. Instead, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss applies what the Hindu labeled as sat, chit, and ananda to assert the non-contingent, ultimate, and transcendant force that many call one God. He encourages skeptics and naysayers to at least take seriously the truth of what a God outside of as well as permeating all creation means, as opposed to the childish notions of a fussy judge noting what's naughty or nice, or an addled fundamentalist's blinkered creationism.

Beginning each part with a moving, eloquent analogy of a dreamer imagining what occurs parallel to what's actually happening outside his sleep, which is filtered into his sensorium as transformed, sets up a main text demanding attention, widening one's vocabulary, and presuming philosophical insight.

Therefore it may prove daunting to many, believer, seeker, denier, or wanderer. It could have been shorter. The "pleonastic fallacy" Hart often decries in his opponents' claims--too many words--enters these three-hundred-plus pages frequently, as the author shares this weakness. He digresses, and then catches himself over and over. Much of this resembles a sage's ruminations to an erudite fellowship.

I wonder who's the target demographic for this Yale UP publication. It'll never get the notoriety of bestsellers by his detractors, nor will it entice many believers unable to handle his dense forays into the history of ideas and the shape of theology which have enriched and warped this perennial theme.

I come to this matter as a fence-sitter, and I aver it's rewarding to hear out both sides in this long debate. How it may be settled may defy the evolutionary biology Hart detests, and the defections of many of the formerly faithful, or, who knows, the final secret may be found, against all logic or odds. Hart counters that God outside of the cosmos, the sole non-contigent presence in the universe, can never be satisfactorily understood by the nature of our limitations within our human mind and body.

However, Hart dismisses the "Just-So Stories" of the adherents to a reductionist materialism in a manner which tempts a mirror image of a empiricist who wonders how God can be grasped if essentially and existentially beyond the reach of human comprehension, as equally (?) intangible.
I am unsure how this argument will convince any who reject the simpler notions of a creator God similar to the "watchmaker" metaphor, or how "magic" ex nihilo which is never "quite" nothing itself can substitute for the discarded divinity, for "naturism" might be swapped for "belief" in crude terms.

Yet the value of the notes, and the help of his annotated list of further reading is welcome. He praises the atheist J.K. Mackie's work as a worthy foil; he recommends John Lennox's God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? as a primer to many topics overlapping with his own deeper examination.

I share some highlights, for in such a challenging project, Hart's own words deserve their place rather than paraphrase or summary which may distort his patterns of inquiry or dilute his concentrated prose. At its best, it will inspire many bookmarks and times for an attentive reader to reflect upon. Its shortcomings remain, and will be countered surely by his eager rivals, but it's a valuable investment in one's time, and I found myself staying up more than one night, curious about what came next.

"The human longing for God or the transcendent runs very deep—perhaps far too deep to be trusted, but also too deep to treat as mere primitive folly—and it has produced much good and much evil in human history. It lies at the heart of all human culture. All civilizations to this point have grown up around one or another sacred vision of the cosmos, which has provided a spiritual environment and a vital impulse for the arts, philosophy, law, public institutions, cultural revolutions, and so on. Whether there will ever be such a thing as a genuinely secular civilization—not a mere secular society, but a true civilization, entirely founded upon secular principles—is yet to be seen. What is certain is that, to this point, most of the unquestionably sublime achievements of the human intellect and imagination have arisen in worlds shaped by some vision of transcendent truth. Only a thoughtless person can possibly imagine that the vast majority of those responsible for such achievements have all clung pathetically to an understanding of the transcendent as barbarously absurd as the one casually presumed in the current texts of popular unbelief. We really ought to put such things away and discuss these matters like adults." What may escape notice is that Hart never tries to use his theories to prove a particular God or religious revelation. It's refreshing to find a non-Christocentric approach. He admits that God after all may not be founded on what we surmise as outside our sensorium, too. This appears to challenge his thesis, to say the least, but I may have missed some sly subtlety here.

"From the perspective of classical metaphysics, Hawking misses the whole point of talk of creation: God would be just as necessary even if all that existed were a collection of physical laws and quantum states, from which no ordered universe had ever arisen; for neither those laws nor those states could exist of themselves." Hart likes to go at the cosmologists who reckon that the quantum foam and random wave fluctuations from a vacuum spontaneously coming in and out of reality have always been there, prior to the Big Bang. He hammers home the simple denial that these are still created. I wondered why an eternal, recurring universe or set of such might be calmly suggested. But although Hart nods briefly to Buddhist contexts, he does not delve into their supposition. I was also disappointed that other Eastern concepts such as Dao did not enter this endeavor. He makes an aside early on that they may apply, but he will not incorporate or remove them from his central emphasis.

"And my final reason for using precisely these three words {of the subtitle} is that, so it seems to me, they perfectly designate those regions of human experience that cannot really be accounted for within the framework of philosophical naturalism without considerable contortions of reasoning and valiant revisions of common sense. They name essential and perennial mysteries that, no matter how we may try to reduce them to purely natural phenomena, resolutely resist our efforts to do so, and continue to point beyond themselves to what is 'more than nature.' Hart here shows his opposition to naturalism.

"Even if one could conceivably prove, as is occasionally suggested these days, that cosmic information is somehow ceaselessly generated out of quantum states, this still would not have decided the issue of causality in favor of the naturalist position. As a brilliant physicist friend of mine often and somewhat tiresomely likes to insist, 'chaos' could not produce laws unless it were already governed by laws." Mentioned above, this estimation refuses to accept any "eternal" possibility.

"To use an old terminology, every finite thing is the union of an essence (its 'what it is') with a unique existence (its 'that it is'), each of which is utterly impotent to explain the other, or to explain itself for that matter, and neither of which can ever be wholly or permanently possessed by anything. One knows of oneself, for instance, that every instant of one’s existence is only a partial realization of what one is, achieved by surrendering the past to the future in the vanishing and infinitesimal interval of the present. Both one’s essence and one’s existence come from elsewhere—from the past and the future, from the surrounding universe and whatever it may depend upon, in a chain of causal dependencies reaching backward and forward and upward and downward—and one receives them both not as possessions secured within some absolute state of being but as evanescent gifts only briefly grasped within the ontological indigence of becoming." The "how" of the universe may be ascertained, but not the "why." That remains inaccessible to any discovery or test made by science.

Likewise, Hart gives no credence to the "strategy of avoiding the word 'God' only by periphrastically substituting the word 'universe.' In the end, ontological necessity is not a property that can intelligibly attach to any nature other than God’s. If one wishes to view the physical universe as the ultimate reality—whether one imagines it as having no beginning or as having a beginning without cause—then one must also accept that it is still an entirely contingent reality, one which somehow just happens to be there: an 'absolute contingency,' to use an unavoidable oxymoron. It may be an absurd picture of things—certainly there seems to be no argument against it more potent than its own perfectly self-evident incoherence—but it seems to me to be an absurdity that one can quite blamelessly embrace so long as one is willing to grasp the nettle and accept that this just-there-ness is logically indistinguishable from magic. Everyone needs a little magic in life now and then." Surprise!

"God is the infinite 'ocean of being' while creatures are finite vessels containing existence only in limited measure." Hart holds this is a frequently used image in spiritual works, but it's new to me.

"At that uncrossable intellectual threshold, religions fall back upon inscrutable doctrines, philosophers upon inadequate concepts, and mystics upon silence. 'Si comprehendis, non est deus,' as Augustine says: 'If you comprehend it, it is not God.'" So, what surpasses commonsense or speculation therefore comprises that which we cannot comprehend, but nonetheless, we by our senses say this? This reminds me of Thomas Aquinas' bow to mysticism, for all his texts were but "straw."

"The first-person perspective is not dissoluble into a third-person narrative of reality; consciousness cannot be satisfactorily reduced to physics without subtracting something." Hart doggedly insists that we can never get outside our own heads to truly explore the mystery of what our consciousness "is."

"What, precisely, did nature select for survival, and at what point was the qualitative difference between brute physical causality and unified intentional subjectivity vanquished? And how can that transition fail to have been an essentially magical one?" He nags at the biologists who aver that evolution can account fully for these leaps from animal to human within the evidence of the record.

"My claim throughout these pages is that the grammar for our thinking about the transcendent is given to us in the immanent, in the most humbly ordinary and familiar experiences of reality; in the case of our experience of consciousness, however, the familiarity can easily overwhelm our sense of the essential mystery. There is no meaningful distinction between the subject and the object of experience here, and so the mystery is hidden by its own ubiquity." God surrounds, if to us routine?

"If one is to exclude the supernatural absolutely from one’s picture of reality, one must not only ignore the mystery of being but also refuse to grant that consciousness could possibly be what it self-evidently is." Tricky. I guess that he reiterates the hard fact that we cannot figure out our own mind.

"The vanishing point of the mind’s inner coherence and simplicity is met by the vanishing point of the world’s highest values; the gaze of the apperceptive 'I' within is turned toward a transcendental 'that' forever beyond; and mental experience, of the self or of the world outside the self, takes shape in the relation between these two 'supernatural' poles." Within the book, this passage gains support. Maybe, that horizon is where God lurks, and where morals and what we yearn for rests by design.

"God is the one act of being, consciousness, and bliss in whom everything lives and moves and has its being; and so the only way to know the truth of things is, necessarily, the way of bliss." Late in the book, Hart tells us that without God, neither good nor evil would be present among us. I admit I remained unclear about this bold statement. Perhaps it's that God generates all that "matters" even if as conceived as mental constructions (aesthetics, love, truth, goodness?) rather than evolution itself?
Sometimes I felt as if Hart was hacking his way into thickets determined to strike down the biologists who advance the primacy of these "moral" conceptions as generated from our inner workings. He kept cutting down Daniel Dennett, for instance, but I wished he'd given his foe more of a fair hearing.

"Whether God is indeed to be found in these dimensions of experience, that is where he has traditionally been sought, as the unconditioned and transcendent reality who sustains all things in being, the one in whom all that nature cannot contain but upon which nature depends has its simple and infinite actuality." Hart encapsulates the central gist of his formidable repetition of this verity.

"We cannot encounter the world without encountering at the same time the being of the world, which is a mystery that can never be dispelled by any physical explanation of reality, inasmuch as it is a mystery logically prior to and in excess of the physical order." Hart repeats his immaterial worldview.

So "much of what passes for debate between theist and atheist factions today is really only a disagreement between differing perspectives within a single post-Christian and effectively atheist understanding of the universe. Nature for most of us now is merely an immense machine, either produced by a demiurge (a cosmic magician) or somehow just existing of itself, as an independent contingency (a magical cosmos)." Back to that magic he mocks in the materialists as the only fallback they have for the evolutionary leaps. A bit of the "god of the gaps" inverted against the fact-checkers.

"It is rather as if a dispute over the question of Tolstoy’s existence were to be prosecuted by various factions trying to find him among the characters in Anna Karenina, and arguing about which chapters might contain evidence of his agency (all the while contemptuously ignoring anyone making the preposterous or meaningless assertion that Tolstoy does not exist at all as a discrete object or agent within the world of the novel, not even at the very beginning of the plot, and yet is wholly present in its every part as the source and rationale of its existence)."" I liked this all the more as I just finished that novel. It assists those of us who at this rarified level of cogitation wait for an easier sussed idea.

He turns Marx inside out a bit next. "In our time, to strike a lapidary phrase, irreligion is the opiate of the bourgeoisie, the sigh of the oppressed ego, the heart of a world filled with tantalizing toys." He's getting warmed up at the conclusion, encouraging contemplation to get beyond all this mental exertion, and warning us that without such committed endeavor, these distractions will dull us, and we will fail to make the necessary attempt to turn from the shadows and leave Plato's screened cave.

"If one is left unsatisfied by the logical arguments for belief in God, and instead insists upon some 'experimental' or 'empirical' demonstration, then one ought to be willing to attempt the sort of investigations necessary to achieve any sort of real certainty regarding a reality that is nothing less than the infinite coincidence of absolute being, consciousness, and bliss. In short, one must pray."

"Late modernity is, after all, a remarkably shrill and glaring reality, a dazzling chaos of the beguilingly trivial and terrifyingly atrocious, a world of ubiquitous mass media and constant interruption, a ceaseless storm of artificial sensations and appetites, an interminable spectacle whose only unifying theme is the imperative to acquire and spend. It is scarcely surprising, in such a world, amid so many distractions, and so many distractions from distraction, that we should have little time to reflect upon the mystery that manifests itself not as a thing among other things, but as the silent event of being itself. Human beings have never before lived lives so remote from nature, or been more insensible to the enigma it embodies. For late modern peoples, God has become ever more a myth, but so in a sense has the world; and there probably is no way of living in real communion with one but not the other." Preaching to me, a disenchanted and disaffected member of the late capitalist choir, this concludes Hart's spirited counter-cultural turn, where he encourages us to stay still. Few of us may have the privilege he does to live in hilly woods, but we can seek a better place to reflect.
(Amazon US 1/5/18 in much shorter form)