SOMETHING ELSE by Jonathan Bishop


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We are a materialist people, but we seem to be pushovers for sob stories and primers on how to save one's soul. It probably has something to do with New England's producing Louisa May Alcott and Emerson and Thoreau. Or perhaps California, where star-crossed lovers and benighted cultists and gurus sometimes share the same address. Since Professor Bishop has taught at Amherst and the University of Southern California, it is doubtless right that his earnest, inspirational study of confrontation and encounter, belief and disbelief, the sacred and profane, of ""making contact with the world, and what comes of that,"" should be simultaneously serious and sentimental, romantic and academic, lugubriously lightheaded and weighty with the profound thoughts of other men. Woodstock and The Mothers of Invention, Coleridge and Whitman, the Gospels and Science, the professor's sessions with his analyst or fun time with his kids -- here indeed is an ecumenical work where past and present, culture and kitsch, the essay and the anecdote meet to convey the ""something else"" which might make the confusion of the common world instructive and meaningful -- and, yes, even blessed. Also, though the professor strews his pages with ""existential perceptions,"" his rebuttal, for instance, of Heidegger and Sartre on inauthenticity, couldn't be more inane. Though gregarious experiences are ""transient, they need not necessarily be inauthentic."" We are not wrong to sing in a group, ""though we may not be fully our most private selves."" Nor are his aphorisms of much help. ""The end of existence is imagination."" Try it the other way and it sounds equally impressive -- or empty. Admittedly, Professor Bishop's soundings of theology and literary matters are, at times, illuminating and perceptive, but, in general, they too are considerably vitiated by the simplistic philosophic tone which runs from chapter to chapter, culminating finally in the endearing discovery that ""I begin to participate in the redemption of the world whenever I want some of it. Desire already converts. . . . I think what has not yet happened: clarity, singleness, entirety."" How odd that a study presumably transcending the body-mind dualism should end with Descartes in yet another disguise.

Pub Date: Jan. 10th, 1971
Publisher: Braziller