I like to walk around the big chain bookstore, with its carefully crafted display tables and candles and blankets, and not buy books (or anything). Instead I have my library app open and as I see a book that looks interesting I order it up. A few weeks or months later the book arrives at the library and I feel this smug satisfaction of *free books* and the delight of having forgotten I’d ordered it in the first place, so it’s like a double present. Continue reading
Tag Archives: identity
People seem excited about Rachel Cusk’s Outline because it’s some sort of experiment in form and characterization: the ‘novel’ follows a writer/writing instructor while she is in Greece teaching a writing seminar. The novel narrates her conversations with those she encounters – from airplane seat mates to long time friends – over the course of her trip. There is something to be said for the way her character is revealed in relief – what she doesn’t say, how she lets the conversation be focused on the other person, by the questions she asks and the settings in which these conversations unfold (e.g. on a boat with a person she met on the plan the day before). Continue reading
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe: Why you might choose cake over this novel. If you were me.
As evidenced by the three stickers of award-endorsing-approval on the cover, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz, is well regarded by people who control stickers on books. Also by all of the young adults on the internet. And then all the readers on Goodreads. Why do they like it? It’s a romance, a bildungsroman, a redemption for the weirdo (and don’t all readers of YA identify as weirdos, themselves?), an affirmation of family, an exploration of identity in all its shapes. Continue reading
Sometimes – let’s admit it, often – I’m asked about the purpose of the Humanities. Why not take a course in accounting? Or better yet, something in engineering? Why not, indeed.
Marcel Theroux’s Strange Bodies gives us the great, and oft repeated, justification for the Humanities: the Humanities let us explore the moral and ethical dimensions of our current (and future) worlds, with keen critical awareness and imaginative and robust analyses of complex problems. And what does that mean?
In the novel it means humans have developed the capacity to download an individual consciousness (not as far off as you might think) into a ‘new’ (that is to say, harvested) body. It means the humans involved need to work out all the philosophical and ethical implications of this new technology: who/what/where is the individual? what is the relationship among body, mind and spirit? how can one consent to a technological and biological process with unknown or unforeseen outcomes? just because we can do something with technology, ought we to? It means we read a novel to explore these questions through story in a way that lets the nuances and complexities of the questions unfold through plot and character.
We also get the book’s provocative thematic question on the relationship between immortality achieved in text and immortality in body. That is, the novel poses that all writers of all ages who have active readers have already achieved a certain kind of immortality (hardly a new argument, but a fascinating one all the same). In writing and reading we engage in a dialogue that transcends time and space. (you might want to say ‘dun dun dun’ right now – as if you’ve just realized something brand new and shocking, rather than something you’ve always known).
I admit I found the conceit of the novel exciting at first. I eagerly read the quasi-mystery, quasi-thriller as I worked to figure out how our protagonist could be at once living and dead. Midway through the book, once the urgency of the mystery resolved into the still-urgent-if-less-car-chasing-and-explosions questions of the nature of humanity, identity, memory and the soul, I was a little less wholly captivated. Call me a lazy reader, or more properly, call me one who likes her philosophy and ethics neatly packed in a story compelling in its own right. That is, I’m a student of literature, and not of philosophy.
But I’m nevertheless a proud student of the Humanities. I see this novel as a prescient and provocative call to question (if not challenge) the way we make use of technology and the way we work towards technological change that is neither good nor bad on its own. So we need the Humanities to help us make sense, to urge us to pause, to discuss, to question. And we need this book as a captivating means to do just this work.