I read this passage today and, although it is from a book published in 1996, I was immediately struck by how topical it is. What do you think?:
“Always with you this freedom! For your walled-up country to shout ‘Freedom! Freedom!’ as if it were obvious to all people what it wants to mean, this word. But look: it’s not as simple as that. Your freedom is the freedom – from; no one tells your precious individual USA selves what they must do.[……..] What of freedom – to. How for the person to freely choose? How to choose any but a child’s greedy choices if there is no loving-filled father to guide, inform, teach the person how to choose? How is there freedom to choose if one does not know how to choose?”
pg 32o - Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.
THE LITTLE BOOK OF ATHEIST SPIRITUALITY by André Comte-Sponville (Penguin Books, 2007 – translated by Nancy Huston)
I chanced upon this slim volume at the excellent Judd Books in Bloomsbury (a highly recommended source for bargain books if you are ever in this part of London).
I hadn’t heard of the book previously but it proved to be an inspired and inspiring purchase. It makes the case for atheism in a concise and intelligent manner whilst maintaining a tolerance for those who believe in God or some other supreme being.
André Comte-Sponville addresses this question from an overtly philosophical perspective so it is cogently reasoned with numerous quotes about faith and belief from heavyweight thinkers like Nietzsche, Kant, Spinoza and Wittgenstein.
These are not just chosen to make the writer look smart (although he plainly is!) but to illustrate that the big questions – ‘Can We Do Without Religion? ; ‘Does God Exist? – are far from new and can be answered in numerous ways.
These questions are the titles of two of the three chapters in the Frenchman’s guide for the perplexed, the third seeks to respond to the query: Can There Be An Atheist Spirituality?
Needless to say, his answers to these three points are, respectively, YES, NO and YES. Continue reading
Why read novels?
Jonathan Franzen addressed this question in his 1996 Harpers essay under the title Perchance To Dream, which he subsequently revised and re-titled Why Bother?
In this he wrote of how, in his view, “TV has killed the novel of social reportage” and in recent interviews he has reaffirmed this position by saying that TV does what the social novel used to do.
In the essay, he went further by dismissing the supposed advantages of the information age, criticizing the “banal ascendancy of television and the electronic fragmentation of public discourse” which leads to a “tyranny of the literal” and the superficial treatment of complex issues.
The dilemma he presents for socially conscious novelists like him is how to keep the faith and believe that what you are writing is worthwhile. In this, he drew consolation from the wise words of Don DeLillo who wrote to him saying: “Writing is a form of personal freedom. It frees us from the mass identity we see in the making all around us”.
Perhaps it’s not too glib to suggest that Franzen’s absorbing new novel – Freedom – is an affirmation of his own freedom to address some of society’s ‘big’ issues. In doing so he is not pretending that works of fiction like this can change the world but they can at least present readers with a deeply considered alternative viewpoint. Continue reading