Culture-critic Martin Green (Children of the Sun, The Von Richthofen Sisters) combines biography with literary criticism,...

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THE CHALLENGE OF THE MAHATMAS

Culture-critic Martin Green (Children of the Sun, The Von Richthofen Sisters) combines biography with literary criticism, radical politics, and personal history in a search through the life work of two ""great souls,"" Tolstoy and Gandhi, for moral ammunition against the cupidity and destructiveness of modern civilization. Built around a series of seven talks given at Tufts University, the book displays both the virtues (freshness, directness, informality) and vices (casual, not to say sloppy, organization) of the original live format. Green starts out convinced that the world is doomed (""Presumably in our lifetime its end will come"") and the only thing we can save is our honor. We can live with decency and sincerity, and, guided by the prophetic teachings of Tolstoy and Gandhi, learn the discipline of serf-restraint, nonviolence, and universal love. Green is no mere acolyte: he reviews the case against his mahatmas, quotes their critics, and tries to reach a balanced judgment. His real subject, however, is the academic conscience. How can he express, concretely, his opposition to a culture gone mad? As a ""kept"" member of the educational establishment, isn't he working in concert with the enemy even when he preaches spiritual revolution? And how can he square his love of literature with Gandhi's--and the late Tolstoy's--notorious hostility to high art? No one will be completely happy with Green's tentative answers to these questions. (He proposes, among other things, that English teachers lay bare the connection between adventure stories and the myths of imperialism.) But he confronts issues of vital concern to anyone with a commitment to the humanities.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 1978

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Basic Books

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1978