Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Vision and Touch

I read Rachel Urquhart's The Visionist over Christmas, an appropriate time for reading about the mysteries of faith, sin, and redemption. The Shaker settlement and the outside World of mid-19th century Massachusetts are both meticulously and convincingly brought to life. The novel is narrated through three points of view. Sister Charity of the City of Hope and Simon Pryor from the World both speak in the first person, as they struggle to understand the throes of events around them. Sister Charity, the self-deceiving innocent, bears much of the novel's psychological burden whereas Simon Pryor, the fire investigator, bears much of the narrative burden. The stroke of genius here is to narrate Polly Kimball's point of view through the third person. Polly, the outsider who becomes the insider on false pretenses, is thus seen with sympathetic detachment. The third-person becomes a delicate method of apprehending her trauma and her victory without inhabiting them.

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TLS October 30, 2015

from Michael Silk's review of Joshua Billings' Genealogy of the Tragic: Greek tragedy and German philosophy:

The meaning that the [Idealist] theorists find in, most notably, Sophocles, "established a possibility for Greek tragedy's meaning that did not exist before". The new "meaning" (let us rather say) was not available before - but, in any case, let us at once add: the newly perceived "meaning" helps to create a new set of "possibilities" for the "meaning" of art and literature tout court. It helps to make possible Nietzsche's conviction that "all art can be understood as a remedy and aid in the service of growing and struggling life"; Matthew Arnold's claim that, by giving voice, and decisive shape, to "a current of true and fresh ideas", the greatest poetry speaks to our deepest concerns; and Terry Eagleton's insistence that the best writers are valuable because (pace mechanical Marxism) they can and do reveal the "fault lines" of a prevailing ideology. Idealist thought has enabled essential understanding of the distinctive value of literature and art, we are indebted to it....


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from Katharine Craik's review of Joe Moshenka's Feeling Pleasures: The sense of touch in Renaissance England:

Here is a new story of the Reformation quite different from the familiar narrative of an affective, proximate world giving way to new forms of intellectual detachment. Christ's incarnation had always implied that touch involves a certain dignity, and tactile forms of worship continued in post-Reformation England even as the rules about what was touchable and what wasn't remained constantly in flux. The history of the Book of Common Prayer itself bears witness to the difficulty of ironing out tactility from Christian spiritual practice. Reforming preachers such as Thomas Cranmer and Lancelot Andrewes refused to abandon God's literal touch to mere metaphor, retaining the possibility, however indefinable, that divinity resides at our fingertips. Even the holy Word remained tactile and sinewy, its curative touch poised between the real and the figurative.

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