The Slavophile Controversy: History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth-Century Russian Thought
By Andrzej Walicki
Publisher: University of Notre Dame Press
In the Introduction to the original edition of The Slavophile Controversy, published in 1944 (and now reissued), the Polish historian Andrzej Walicki, now a professor at the University of Notre Dame, maintained that “the issues debated by the Slavophiles and Westernizers (the individual’s relation to society, types of social integration and spiritual culture, the problem of freedom and alienation, the emancipation of personality, and so on) are no less topical today.” These words ring with even more truth 25 years later, for the people of the Soviet Union have plunged anew into a fierce and rough-and-tumble conflict over matters raised, but not settled, by the 19th-century debate.
Through his enlightening study, Walicki not only reminds one of the richness and vitality of Russian thought in the half century or so before the Bolsheviks seized power, but he also provides historical depth for one determined to comprehend current controversies in the Soviet Union.
Spark from Heaven: The Mystery of the Madonna of Medjugorje
By Mary Craig
Publisher: Ave Maria Press
Mary Craig, an English Catholic journalist, can’t make up her mind about the alleged apparitions of the Virgin in Yugoslavia. She accompanied a BBC film crew to Medjugorje in 1986, mainly because she was intrigued by the political implications of the situation — of how a Communist government was handling an eruption of spiritual fervor. Impressed with the visionaries and with the “fruits” of what the film crew’s interpreter called “this good tree” that the Virgin has planted “in the rocky soil of Medjugorje,” Craig returned in June 1987 for the celebration of the sixth anniversary of the Virgin’s first appearance. A disenchanted Mary Craig departed from Medjugorje this time. “All I had found seemed to be heat rash and depression,” she complains. “Those pilgrims seemed so certain that they had found what they were looking for. Yet, to me, such certainty was intolerable; I was suspicious of ‘answers’ that seemed to be rooted in formal prayers and orthodox Catholic practice.” Pointing out that the local bishop, a man unrelentingly hostile to the visionaries, has “logic and reason…on his side,” Craig still confesses: “And yet…somehow, in spite of everything, I find myself hoping he’s wrong.” On Craig’s first visit, one of the BBC technicians, no believer, blurted: “I don’t know what the hell’s going on here; but something certainly is.” That something left a prominent American Pentecostal marveling at the authentic New Testament spirituality radiated by the priests and young people. It awed a Muslim holy man who came to observe the goings-on: “I felt in my heart such energy that I could have cried aloud…. I decided to pray the whole night….” Perhaps most impressive is the testimony from a young man identified by Craig as “a radical and anti-clerical research student from Leeds University.” On a mission to debunk, he met with a surprise in the Yugoslavian village. “Preconceived ideas from either left or right tend to get drowned in God’s will here,” he admitted. “I think this place transcends divisions. It’s about peace and reconciliation…. In Medjugorje, I believe God is speaking above the din of conservatives versus radicals.”
Harper's Bible Pronunciation Guide
By William O. Walker Jr.
Publisher: Harper & Row
Perusing the Bible silently, one’s eye glides effortlessly over an abundance of exotic, tongue-tying names and words. But what happens when one is called upon to read a biblical passage aloud and in public? As the eye skips ahead it spots the inevitable unpronounceable term — “Aholibamah,” say, or “Chepharamammoni” or “Zerubbabel.” What to do? Either mumble the word in hopes that no one will notice anything odd, or bluff it through with enough volume, vigor, and self-confidence that the auditors will be satisfied that one’s own pronunciation is the correct one.
Help has arrived in the form of Harper’s Bible Pronunciation Guide, a volume that contains over 7,000 words, divided into two sections — “Biblical Terms” and “Nonbiblical Terms,” (“Apocalypticism,” Persepolis,” and “Tetragrammaton,” for example) related to scripture study. This guide joins two other Harper’s reference works — the Bible Dictionary and the Bible Commentary — as indispensable items on the shelf of the serious student of the Bible.
By Katharyn W. Crabbe
Most everyone in the Lit Crit Establishment used to nod the head sagely and lament that, yes, Catholicism spoiled Evelyn Waugh. The critics loved his early books, those scintillating novels that crackled with wicked satire, mordant wit, and social mayhem. Alas, the Church snared him and ruined his art. Although Katharyn Crabbe pays her respects to this received wisdom (“there is some truth in this version,” she avers), her perceptive, no-nonsense study of Waugh’s fiction proves just the opposite.
By focusing on such leitmotifs as exile and the “decline and fall of the city of man,” Crabbe reveals the unity that binds early Waugh to late Waugh. She gives a full and appreciative reading to the Catholic Waugh, even devoting attention, as few critics do, to such neglected works as Helena, Waugh’s imaginative rendering of the life of the mother of the Emperor Constantine. Crabbe’s illuminating explication of these writings prompts one to reach for a volume of Waugh.
The Modernization of Sex: Havelock Ellis, Alfred Kinsey, William Masters and Virginia Johnson
By Paul Robinson
Publisher: Cornell University Press
The Modernization of Sex (first published in 1976) is one of those droll creatures that struts and frets in the halls of academe. Half scholarship, half polemic, it both illuminates its subject and irritates those who reject the author’s partis pris.
As a contribution to learning, the book skillfully explicates the ideas of four proponents of “sexual modernism,” a movement that strips sex of its mystique, explodes romantic sentimentalism, and reduces the act (or acts, for nothing is taboo among the modernizers) to its physical mechanics.
The other side of Robinson’s book — its offensive tendentiousness — debouches from his unsubtle championing of sexual modernism, especially as it seeks to collapse the notion of perversion, promote unrestrained indulgence, and denigrate marriage and childbearing. Alfred Kinsey wins Robinson’s award as ideal sexual revolutionary; “for me,” he declares, Kinsey is “an attractive, even a heroic figure.” Of his hero, Robinson reveals that Kinsey “was anxious to pin the blame on religion” for all man’s sexual afflictions — “no matter what the evidence.” Tolerance, a prized canon of sexual modernism, received its ultimate boost from Kinsey, who even, as Robinson points out, put in a “good word for child molesters.” Alas, Robinson laments in the preface he composed for this reprinting of his book that the glory days have vanished; we are allegedly mired in “sexual reaction.”
Sacralizing the Secular: The Renaissance Origins of Modernity
By Stephen A. McKnight
Publisher: Louisiana State University Press
In Sacralizing the Secular Stephen McKnight, a political philosopher at the University of Florida, contributes to the movement afoot to dispel the still popular misapprehension that the Renaissance spelled the triumph of science, reason, and secularity over the supposedly superstitious and obscurantist Middle Ages. Like Frances Yates, the astute historian of the “occult philosophy,” McKnight singles out the “Ancient Wisdom,” a farrago of esoteric ideas derived from the legendary Egyptian magus, Hermes Trismegistus, as a key element in Renaissance thought, especially as filtered through the minds of Marsilio Ficino, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Cornelius Agrippa, Giordano Bruno, and Tommaso Campanella.
Rather than to sunder heaven from earth, God from man, as did such Renaissance secularists as Boccaccio and Machiavelli, propagators of Hermeticism revived myths that “underscore man’s divinity and describe man as possessing both God-like knowledge and the creative capacity to use that knowledge to emulate God’s creation.” They endeavored, as the title of McKnight’s book indicates, to sacralize the secular. Ficino and Pico fashioned ancient ideas into instruments of “self-divinization”; in the next two centuries, led by Bruno, Campanella, and others, proponents of the so-called Ancient Wisdom stimulated “utopian ideas of religious and political reformation.”
In the most provocative section of the book, McKnight argues that the Hermetic tradition’s program of sacralization cropped up significantly in the works of 19th-century ideologues, notably Comte and Marx. McKnight’s book adduces a closely woven and persuasive thesis that helps one to grasp the roots of perversity that feed some strains of modern thought.
Another Sort of Learning
By James V. Schall
James Schall is Allan Bloom without the solemnity and bitchiness. Like Bloom, Schall deplores the slump in elevated discourse and urges the reading of classic books, but unlike his fellow political theorist, Fr. Schall has fun with earnest matters. His twinkling wit and fondness for laughter suffuse Another Sort of Learning, proving that a furrowed brow and grim visage are not mandatory in the discussion of the gravest of concerns. Who else would quote St. Thomas on one page and Mad magazine on the next?
Schall is a subversive among the professors. Believing that education rarely educates in the deepest sense, he exhorts the truth-seeker to impose his own regimen of learning. “I believe,” he observes, “that we are in a world today where most of this searching must take place outside the normal educational process and outside the myriads of media images and opinions with which we are constantly confronted.”
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