“This book will provide readers with a greater awareness of the spirit of curiosity and inquiry that lies at the heart of the Buddhist tradition, as well as the fruitfulness of maintaining active communication between the Buddhist and scientific communities.” —from the Foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama
In Humble before the Void, Impey, a noted astronomer, educator, and author gives us a thoroughly absorbing and engaging account of his journey to Northern India to teach in the first-ever “Science for Monks” leadership program. The program was initiated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to introduce science into the Tibetan Buddhist monastic tradition.
In a vivid and compelling narrative, Impey introduces us to a group of exiled Tibetan monks whose charm, tenacity and unbridled enthusiasm for learning is infectious. Impey marvels not only at their enthusiasm, but at their tireless diligence that allows the monks to painstakingly build intricate sand mandalas—that can be swept away in an instant. He observes them as they meticulously count galaxies and notes how their enthusiasm and diligence stands in contrast to many American students who are frequently turned off by science’s inability to deliver easy, immediate payoffs. Because the Buddhist monks have had a limited science education, Impey must devise creative pedagogy. His new students immediately take to his inspired teaching methods, whether it’s the use of balloons to demonstrate the Hubble expansion or donning an Einstein mask to explain the theory of relativity.
Humble before the Void also recounts Impey’s experiences outside the classroom, from the monks’ eagerness to engage in pick-up basketball games and stream episodes of hip American sitcoms to the effects on his relationship with the teenage son who makes the trip with him. Moments of profound serenity and beauty in the Himalayas are contrasted with the sorrow of learning that other monks have set themselves on fire to protest the Chinese oppression in Tibet.
At the end of the three week program, both the monks and Impey have gained a valuable education. While the monks have a greater understanding and appreciation of science, Impey has acquired greater self- knowledge and a deeper understanding of the nature of learning and teaching in the East and West. This understanding leads to a renewed enthusiasm for making his topic come alive for others.
Mishima: A Vision of the Void
Maguerite Yourcenar University of Chicago Press, 2001 Library of Congress PL833.I7Z98713 2001 | Dewey Decimal 895.635
On November 25, 1970, Japan's most renowned postwar novelist, Yukio Mishima, stunned the world by committing ritual suicide. Here, Marguerite Yourcenar, a brilliant reader of Mishima and a scholar with an eye for the cultural roles of fiction, unravels the author's life and politics: his affection for Western culture, his family and his homosexuality, his brilliant writings, and his carefully premeditated death.
If, as the literary theorists of postmodernism contend, “content” does not exist, then how can fiction continue to be written? Jerome Klinkowitz, himself a veteran practitioner and theorist of fiction, addresses this question in Structuring the Void, an account of what today’s novelists and short story writers do when they produce a fictive work. Klinkowitz’s focus is on the way in which writers have turned this lack of content itself into subject matter, and, by thus “structuring the void,” have created a new form of fiction. Among the writers Klinkowitz discusses are Richard Brautigan, Kurt Vonnegut, Max Apple, Saul Bellow, Erica Jong, Susan Quist, Gerald Rosen, Rob Swigart, and Grace Paley. He shows how, in the absence of subject matter, these writers persist in the act of structuring—by organizing autobiography as a narrative device, ritualizing national history and popular culture, or formalizing a comic response to a new imaginative state, the state of California. Klinkowitz also considers subjects such as gender and war, which, though they cannot be represented, nevertheless exercise contraints on a writer’s intention to structure. What emerges from Klinkowitz’s analysis is a clear sense of what today’s fiction—and fiction writing—is about. As such, Structuring the Void will prove invaluable to anyone with an interest in contemporary literature.
In a pluralistic society without absolute standards of judgment, how can an individual live a moral life? This is the question Robert Musil (1880-1942), an Austrian-born engineer and mathematician turned writer, asked in essays, plays, and fiction that grapple with the moral ambivalence of modern life. Though unfinished, his monumental novel of Vienna in the febrile days before World War I, The Man without Qualities, is identified by German scholars as the most important literary work of the twentieth century.
In a fresh examination of his essays, notebooks, and fiction, Patrizia McBride reconstructs Musil's understanding of ethics as a realm of experience that eludes language and thought. After situating Musil's work within its contemporary cultural-philosophical horizon, as well as the historical background of rising National Socialism, McBride shows how the writer's notion of ethics as a void can be understood as a coherent and innovative response to the crises haunting Europe after World War I. She explores how Musil rejected the outdated, rationalistic morality of humanism, while simultaneously critiquing the irrationalism of contemporary art movements, including symbolism, impressionism, and expressionism. Her work reveals Musil's remarkable relevance today-particularly those aspects of his thought that made him unfashionable in his own time: a commitment to fighting ethical fundamentalism and a literary imagination that validates the pluralistic character of modern life.
This is a story that few know, but those who do are its disciples. The story, of the highest and driest of all American deserts, the Great Basin, has no finer voice than that of William Fox. Fox’s book is divided into the three sections of the title. In “The Void,” he leads us through the Great Basin landscape, investigating our visual response to it—a pattern of mountains and valleys on a scale of such magnitude and emptiness and undifferentiated by shape, form, and color that the visual and cognitive expectations of the human mind are confounded and impaired. “The Grid” leads us on a journey through the evolution of cartography in the nineteenth century and the explorations of John Charles Frémont to the net of maps, section markers, railroads, telegraph lines, and highways that humans have thrown across the void throughout history. “The Sign” wends us through the metaphors and language we continue to place around and over the void, revealing the Great Basin as a palimpsest where, for example, the neon boulevards of Las Vegas interplay with ancient petroglyphs. In this one-of-a-kind travel book that allows us to travel within our own neurophysiological processes as well as out into the arresting void of the Great Basin, Fox has created a dazzling new standard at the frontier of writing about the American West. His stunning and broad insight draws from the fields of natural history, cognitive psychology, art history, western history, archaeology, and anthropology, and will be of value to scholars and readers in all these subjects.