Tuesday, August 28, 2007

After looking at this book sit on the shelf for a long time, I picked up Paul Berman's Power and the Idealists, which tries to map how certain '68ers like Joschka Fischer and Daniel Cohn-Bendit became interventionists who could support going to Afghanistan and other wars. Berman starts out with the scandal surrounding Fischer's connections to RAF radicals in his student days, and to allegations of violent radicalism, but takes the book in other directions too. Most interesting was Berman's extended analysis of Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran, and his examination of how once strident Marxists like Nafisi viewed the Iranian revolution and how they came to value individual freedoms above all while living under Iran's totalitarianism. Even though these '68ers didn't live through WWII, Berman is convinced that it informs their views and that their activism has crystallized and matured into a resistance of totalitarianism. Of course I write this while I'm in the middle of the book, so perhaps things will change by the last page....

Sunday, August 05, 2007

I am rereading The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco; it's surprisingly easy to pick up and read from wherever you happen to open the book. I like how the author built into the book the fact that people thought differently during the Middle Ages, didn't use reason or at least it was only in its infancy. That's why you can pick it up anywhere, and also because "enlightened" Brother William's ideas don't just get closer to the reality of things but they also allow the main characters to solve the book's mystery.

Another major topic of the book is heresy, and the question of where heresy and officially sanctioned belief diverge. I was reminded of all this because my boss took a detour on a business trip to Albi, in France, because it's one of the stops on the Tour de France. A day after he mentioned it I realized that this was the site of the Albigensian Crusades, and not just a pit stop for that parade of doping die-hards. Through a wonderful course I took in college with Mark Pegg, and the time I've spent near Prades, in the Pyrenees, I am still interested in this time period and the locations bound up with it. That includes the abbey of Saint Michel de Cuxa, which is so connected to the Cloisters in Fort Tryon park in New York, and lies close to the valley running through that part of the Pyrenees, to Saint Martin du Canigou, which sits high atop rocks which are the precursors to the Canigou mountain. And there is the priory of Serrabonne, the hard to reach abbey to the south. All of them quite old, with structures even from the 12th century.