Sunday, July 04, 2010

Acts of God - an article in New Yorker

Nick Paumgarten's article in New Yorker is concise but does have thoughtful punch lines and musings. A few hours ago I heard about the death of three of my acquaintances in a tragic car accident, husband, wife and the mother died on the spot, while the father is in critical condition, and the four month old baby girl was not hurt. And then this New Yorker article caught my eyes. Like the author, and perhaps like many simple minded souls I also find these types of accidents and misfortunes sad and hard to explain by any philosophical or theological wordings. Is this the act of God? "When God acts, apparently, the rest of us do not. He is a little like the Balladeer". Hmmm...

Here is another example from New Yorker article:
Last month after a limb fell from an elm tree near the Central Park Zoo, critically injuring a woman and killing her infant daughter, citizens wondered, as citizens will, how such a thing could be allowed to happen. When trees kill, as trees will, you blame it either on the tree pruners or on “an act of God.”.......Questions of agency, divine or otherwise, dog us these early-summer days, amid a pileup of ill tidings: an intractable war; hints, once again, of economic depression; the deep-sea oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Who’s to blame? Who’s in charge?
Philosopher Austin Farrer mused about "Act of God" about half a century ago, and observed the following: 
God creates creatures and phenomena, which, as agents themselves, then create and act freely. In “Saving Belief: A Discussion of Essentials,” he wrote, “God not only makes the world, he makes it make itself; or rather, he causes its innumerable constituents to make it.” In other words, it’s a collaborative effort. God is Phil Spector, and we are the Ronettes.
Author Nick Paumgarten raised the correct question: "But what about the world’s destruction? Are we collaborating with God on that album, too?" One plausible answer comes from a philosophy professor Edward Hugh Henderson who states, 
"“God does not smash in from outside to overthrow creatures, to put out of gear the order of nature that God has over eons of evolution brought to its present state,” Henderson said. “What the oil is doing to the Gulf and its denizens is what oil, being oil, would do.” “In one sense, divine agency is everywhere,” Henderson went on. “In another, you wouldn’t want to say that accidents and carelessness are examples of double agency.” “It’s at the level of human freedom that you can distinguish between action that is or isn’t underwritten by the pervasiveness of divine will," he said."
Not sure if I fully agree with this explanation yet. Need divine grace to have that enlightenment more to understand the senseless tragedies, violence, wars and endless poverty.

Great Novelists such as Twain and Hemingway has passed - Really?

It seems like a tradition, from time to time, an article decrying the decline of literary world, the receding attention span of overall human populace, when snippets and twits started to rule over intricately woven fiction, and the theorists, linguists and the high brow scholars of literature ponder loud and clear about the possibility, or perhaps the certainty of irreversible diminishing of once lauded literary fictions, one must notice the cyclic occurrence of such musings and lamentations.

Here is an extract from The Guardian:
"For about a million reasons," Siegel claimed, "fiction has now become a museum-piece genre most of whose practitioners are more like cripplingly self-conscious curators or theoreticians than writers. For better or for worse, the greatest storytellers of our time are the non-fiction writers."
 I don't agree with Sigel's comment. I am not sure where are his observations and data are coming from to declare such a sweeping pronouncement, but the reality is still the world has many contemporary fine writers, story tellers, whose crafts, artistry in fictions, short stories and novels are no less equal than the classical writers like Austen, Dickens, Joyce, Hemingway, Twain.

Read Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex, Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Margaret Atwood's The Year of Flood, any and all of Barbara Kingsolver's great novels like The Poisonwood Bible, The Lacuna, Jhumpa Lahiri's novel and short stories, Ian Mcewan and Julian Barnes' finest novels are the few humble examples of world's literary prodigies, well shape and thriving with virtuosity in modernity.

Perhaps the main thrust of Siegel's pessimistic argument was "to shake novelists up":
"The critic Frank Kermode once said the novel was a form that revived itself periodically. "The special fate of the novel, considered as a genre, is to be always dying; and the main reason for this is that the most intelligent novelists and readers are always conscious of the gap, consisting of absurdity, that grows between the world as it seems to be and the world proposed in novels," Kermode wrote. As a result, writers, from Jane Austen and Laurence Sterne to JD Salinger, plan to write an anti-novel and then end up, Kermode said, pointing "the way to a new novel, a new convention".
Link to The Guardian article: Literary storm rages as critic Lee Siegel pronounces the American novel dead