As a book, it stands on its own rather than merely evoking a larger wall display, reaching a much wider audience in the...

THE 613

A monumental art project is transformed into wildly ambitious graphic literature.

In his introduction, artist Rand (Art/Brooklyn Coll., CUNY) invokes Lenny Bruce, Franz Kafka, and Robert Mapplethorpe as inspirations in his creative impulse to turn the 613 Jewish commandments from the Torah into a series of paintings that some might find transgressive, transcendent, or both. “Its effectiveness is factored by the degree of the viewers’ engagement or skepticism,” writes Rand. “Its sacred implications are formatted in a way that makes them seem impudent. Although comic, they are not ironic. Kafka said his art was his prayer.” Thus he takes the commandments seriously enough to make them the subject of art and takes his art seriously enough to infuse it with a spirit of playful subversion. Many of his full-color panels invoke pulp novels, comic-book heroes, and magazines of satire. It took five years for the Brooklyn-based artist to finish the project (in 2006), a series of 16-by-20-inch paintings that required “1,700 square feet of wall space.” Such a display must have been overwhelming for the viewer, a riot of images and color. Here, the work is more like the comic-book panels that also inspired it, inviting readers to savor each law, perhaps puzzling over the connection (or disconnect) between the words and the image. It opens with the startling image of an astronaut free-floating against a backdrop of stars, illustrating the commandment “To know there is a God.” The continuity of panels on purity of sacrifices or prohibiting sexual relations have a narrative pull on the page that they would not have on the wall, while images of cowboys and boxers, molls and floozies and hustlers, some verging on cartoon and others edging toward surrealism, create a visual universe in which time is out of joint, where edicts from the distant past receive interpretation from a more recent past or an imagined future.

As a book, it stands on its own rather than merely evoking a larger wall display, reaching a much wider audience in the process.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-399-17376-9

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Blue Rider Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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