Peter, What are you reading? № 2
An occasional series featuring the books I'm either reading or have just finished
Where possible, I have linked to Wordsworth Books, so that you can order the books directly from Waterloo’s independent bookstore. I found two of the three featured books (*) at Second Look Books on King St W, in downtown Kitchener.
Canadian author and winner of the 2009 Writers Trust Fiction Prize along with being shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize of the same year, this book is an imagined re-telling of Aristotle’s lessons to the young Alexander the Great. More than just a novel, this book takes some of Aristotle’s most famous ideas and delivers them in a digestible and readable format. It is also somewhat erotic, in an intellectual way - the underlying sexualities of Ancient Greece/Macedon come into their own as the characters mature. Here Aristotle is explaining the concept of snow to his wife and her slaves, who have never seen it before.
THE FIRST SNOW OF the season comes whispering late one grey afternoon, just as the light is going, and I'm walking home from my weekly obligation to attend court. I find the slaves murmuring to each other, and then the reason why: Pythias is sitting in a corner of our spare bedroom, one of the few rooms without a window, with her veil drawn over her head.
"What is it?" She lifts her arms above her head and sprinkles her fingers down to her lap.
She's been waiting all afternoon for me; won't go outside, won't let it touch her, until I've given her an explanation she can accept.
"Snow," I say.
Most of the slaves, more gifts from Hermias, haven't seen snow before either. I stand them under the colonnade so they can watch me go out in the courtyard bare-headed. I let it land on my arms and body, and tip my head back with out. It seems to fall from nowhere, bits of pure my tongue colourlessness peeled off from the sky and drifting down, thicker now. They're watching me. Pythias is first: she steps out from under the colonnade and holds out a palm to catch some of the stuff. She comes to me. The slaves slowly follow, and soon we're all standing about in the courtyard letting snow fall on our faces and wet our clothes.
"Why do they send it?" Pythias asks.
Their faces turn toward me. Yes, why?
"Who, love?" Though I know.
If you’ve been following my Facebook or Twitter you’ve probably seen me posting about this book. Extremely relevant to our times, this classic text in political theory is one I didn’t read in university, so now’s as good a time as any. Tracing the history of the totalitarian dictators of the 20th century, specifically Hitler and Stalin, Arendt highlights the undercurrent of anti-semitism that reigned throughout Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, setting the stage for the welcoming of Hitler’s Nazi programme in Germany. From there she traces the broad history of imperialism, paying special attention to the manner in which Europe raided Africa in the late 19th century. Finally she gets to the topic du jour, where she brings the two previous sections together to show how the combination of anti-semitism and imperialism, together created the conditions for the two totalitarian societies. Written just a few short years after the completion of the Second World War, there is so much in here that holds up, 70 years and the collapse of the Soviet Union later.
It is in the moment of defeat that the inherent weakness of totalitarian propaganda becomes visible. Without the force of the movement, its members cease at once to believe in the dogma for which yesterday they still are ready to sacrifice their lives. The moment the movement, that is, the fictitious world which sheltered them, is destroyed, the masses revert to their old status of isolated individuals who either happily accept a new function in changed world sink back into their old desperate superfluousness. The members of totalitarian movements, utterly fanatical as long as the movement exists, will not follow the of religious fanatics and die the the death of martyrs (even though they were only too willing to death of robots). Rather they will quietly give up the movement as a bad bet and look around for another promising fiction or wait until the former fiction regains enough strength to establish another mass movement. pp. 363
Finally, I’ve recently started Pierre Berton’s two-part series on the development of the Canadian railroad. The first book, The National Dream, traces the years before the building of the Trans-Canada Railway, primarily covering the political intrigue that captured the nation’s politicians as they sought to complete such a heavy project. One things I want to be sure that I do is find a parallel book that traces the construction of the railway from the perspective of the displaced communities, nearly all of which were Indigenous. Also important, especially as I get into the second book, The Last Spike, is to consider the perspective of the indentured Chinese servants and slaves forced to work until their backs broke, cutting rock as the railway wound through the mountains of British Columbia.
I have started a course I am taking through the The Shift Network on one of my favourite Christian leaders, the mystic and anchoress Julian of Norwich, who has the honour of being the first woman to have a book published in the English language. She famously became very sick, likely with the bubonic plague, and in her sickness, entered into what we would now call delirium, but for her was a vision. In it, she met God the Mother, and learned from Her the joy of finding God in suffering. Over the rest of her life she wrote, and then re-wrote with observations her description of that vision, which form The Revelations of Divine Love.
If you want to join in, I am sure there is still room in the class.
The Course Modules are:
1. Embracing the Sacred Dark — The Beauty of Not Knowing
2. Cultivating Goodness, Joy & Awe — Falling in Love With the World
3.Tasting the Elixir of Oneing — The Non-Duality of Human & Divine
4. Shifting Toward the Divine Feminine — The Motherhood of God
5. Reclaiming the Roots of Creation Spirituality — The Oneing of God & Nature
6. Trusting Our Sensuality — The Oneing of Body & Soul
7. Embodying Wellness — The Power of Love Over Evil
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