Best read as an introduction to a more substantial work, would that we had one.

REPAIR

THE IMPULSE TO RESTORE IN A FRAGILE WORLD

A slender meditation on the human urge to fix things.

Beginning with obvious types of repair to inanimate objects, Spelman (Philosophy/Smith; Fruits of Sorrow, 1997, etc.) muses on the occupational differences between an automobile mechanic, a vintage motorcycle restorer, and three painting conservators. In the first profession, the goal is the resurrection of machinery: an engine that runs, doors and windows that open and close. The motorcycle restorer, however, must replace damaged bits with authentic parts from the same make and model; a good restoration will result in a bike that closely resembles the original as it came off the factory floor. And the painting conservators engage in “invisible mending,” a process that must be reversible, well documented, and approved by both curator and artist. The author next turns to metaphorical repair, citing examples from the criminal-justice system, the Holocaust, the internment of Japanese-Americans, and the enslavement of Africans in the US. Unfortunately, Spelman flits away from each example as soon as it is offered. In discussing the gas chambers at Birkenau, for instance, she offers no opinion as to whether the site should be fully restored, partially restored (just enough to halt deterioration), or allowed to fall into complete disrepair. Tackling intangible repairs (can Holocaust survivors be repaired and should they even want to?), Spelman raises a number of questions but examines none of them in depth. She mentions the tantalizing detail that in Japan there exists an aesthetic movement referred to as wabi, in which “visibly repaired teapots can be more beautiful than unbroken ones,” but does not explore this motif further. Another interesting point—that repair is at odds with a capitalist consumer economy—is also swiftly abandoned. Finally, her thesis that the urge to repair is universal constrains the author from meaningful exploration of culture or class.

Best read as an introduction to a more substantial work, would that we had one.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2002

ISBN: 0-8070-2012-5

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2002

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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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An erudite and artful, though frustratingly restrained, look at Old Testament stories.

THE BOOK OF GENESIS ILLUSTRATED

The Book of Genesis as imagined by a veteran voice of underground comics.

R. Crumb’s pass at the opening chapters of the Bible isn’t nearly the act of heresy the comic artist’s reputation might suggest. In fact, the creator of Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural is fastidiously respectful. Crumb took pains to preserve every word of Genesis—drawing from numerous source texts, but mainly Robert Alter’s translation, The Five Books of Moses (2004)—and he clearly did his homework on the clothing, shelter and landscapes that surrounded Noah, Abraham and Isaac. This dedication to faithful representation makes the book, as Crumb writes in his introduction, a “straight illustration job, with no intention to ridicule or make visual jokes.” But his efforts are in their own way irreverent, and Crumb feels no particular need to deify even the most divine characters. God Himself is not much taller than Adam and Eve, and instead of omnisciently imparting orders and judgment He stands beside them in Eden, speaking to them directly. Jacob wrestles not with an angel, as is so often depicted in paintings, but with a man who looks not much different from himself. The women are uniformly Crumbian, voluptuous Earth goddesses who are both sexualized and strong-willed. (The endnotes offer a close study of the kinds of power women wielded in Genesis.) The downside of fitting all the text in is that many pages are packed tight with small panels, and too rarely—as with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah—does Crumb expand his lens and treat signature events dramatically. Even the Flood is fairly restrained, though the exodus of the animals from the Ark is beautifully detailed. The author’s respect for Genesis is admirable, but it may leave readers wishing he had taken a few more chances with his interpretation, as when he draws the serpent in the Garden of Eden as a provocative half-man/half-lizard. On the whole, though, the book is largely a tribute to Crumb’s immense talents as a draftsman and stubborn adherence to the script.

An erudite and artful, though frustratingly restrained, look at Old Testament stories.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-393-06102-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2009

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