THE SOLITARY EXPLORER: Thomas Merton's Transforming Journey by Elena Malits

THE SOLITARY EXPLORER: Thomas Merton's Transforming Journey

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More on Merton: a sensitive reading of his life and work as a spiritual odyssey. Malits is head of Religious Studies at St. Mary's College (Notre Dame), and her approach, while critical, is also frankly edifying: Merton's career, she thinks, prods us ""to confront ourselves and to answer to our God."" We are all, in a way, ""solitary explorers,"" and Merton shows us how it's done. This makes sense, but it also oversimplifies, reducing biography almost to allegory--Merton the hermit was also an intensely gregarious person. One suspects that ""Tom"" (as he often signed himself) would have felt uncomfortable in this exemplary role. Still, Malits is right: as Merton's vocation evolved, he came to view it more and more as a deliberate ""political"" statement to the world at large. Even though he had long been disgusted with the lack of privacy and the Mickey Mouse regulations of the monastery he belonged to, he decided to stick it out, to remain a Trappist, in a Thoreauvian refusal to cooperate with cruelty, violence, and the ""inhumanity of organized affluence""--while admitting his complicity in all of it. Malits (herself a nun) stresses that Merton always attacked this mass of evil both within and without himself in the classic Judeo-Christian manner, even though in his later years he sometimes used a Buddhist vocabulary of ""illusion"" and ""ignorance."" There's some irony in the fact that a man so set against the ""disposition to treat the ego as an absolute and central reality"" was also an intensely autobiographical writer, but Merton was aware of it. Malits disclaims any skill as a literary critic, but in fact her assessments of Merton's many (too many) books are sensitive and to the point. An obviously partisan but persuasive and well-informed study.

Pub Date: Oct. 22nd, 1980
Publisher: Harper & Row