Saturday, August 12, 2006

A Good Shaking

A Good Shaking

My love affair with books began in a rather inauspicious way. When I was six years of age my family came to Dublin from the quiet of the country town of Roscrea. Not alone was I in awe of the new city in which I was now resident, but I was a really scared little boy at sea in my new surroundings, and very much frightened by my new school, St. Agatha's Junior School, North William Street, not too far from the inner city. I can to this day still recall the shaking a wicked old witch of a nun, named Sr. Lucy, gave me when I had failed to read the Irish textbook she had pushed into my hands. I had managed the preceding English text quite readily. "No, you're not suitable for first class," declared the frustrated teacher, "you can go into Miss Byrne straight away."

I was duly consigned to repeat the senior infants' year. My abiding memory of that class was plenty of play, much drawing of pictures, the constant rolling of marla - the sixties' equivalent of modern play-dough - and plenty of enjoyment. I was happy under Miss Byrne's tutelage, saving the sharp nail of her right index finger, which she had the wont to stick into the head of any inattentive child.

Yet Sr Lucy's challenge was always a spur to me - to want to read better, and especially be good at Irish. I wanted to master the puzzle of words she had pushed under my nose. In short I was enchanted by the magic of the unknown stories that wove their mysterious patterns on the page in front of me. At home I loved opening my school books and doing my homework. I especially enjoyed reading my Irish and English texts aloud, a habit I still occasionally find hard to avoid. I can yet recall vividly a small boy kneeling at a chair with a book opened in front of him. That enchantment with books would never leave me.

As I grew there were presents of books before I was able to save the money to buy them.  In third and fourth classes I came first place in my exams, and the books I received as prizes were Robinson Crusoe and Huckleberry Finn. Needless to say, my brothers, my friends and I read practically everything written by Enid Blyton. I also developed a love for the adventures of Biggles, The First World War pilot, written by Captain W.E. Johns. Reading had opened the realms of the imagination for a young boy living in the working class area of the North Strand in the Dublin of the nineteen sixties.

By the time I had finished my Leaving Cert. I had accumulated a fairly substantial library, having always been reluctant to get rid of books. There then followed third level education, courses at three different colleges and a teaching career. Now I have an extensive library and wide reading tastes ranging from English, Irish and French literature to general science, philosophy and theology. I have also been known to pen a word or two, and to have several pieces published in academic publications. All this from the acorn of a frightened little country boy, trembling before a fierce frustrated nun in the early nineteen sixties. Looking back at it, that shaking did me a power of good. It woke me up to the vast realm of the imagination, to the magic of words, and to reading as the key, not alone to the world of everyday life and work, but to the inner chambers of the human heart. Thank you, Sr. Lucy, little did you know what good you had done, what powers you had disturbed, what seeds you had sown in the heart of a frightened little six year old boy.
One end of my attic study, January 2006

Lightness of Being Alive

A Ray of Light Some books, especially specialized academic ones, can only be described as dry, heavy, lifeless, and, all too often, downright dull. A friend of mine describes the experience of reading such scholarly tomes as tantamount to eating sawdust. Frequently, when too many words are used, they seem to trip one another up, and in some strange way strangle the experience and squeeze the fruit of life into a soggy pulp. Words can entangle, ensnare and entrap instead of freeing, liberating and releasing the spirit. Gestures accompanied by few and spontaneous words oftentimes capture the experience. A simple anecdote by way of elucidation will make the point forcefully enough: Today as I wandered about in the men's department of a local store a young girl of perhaps fourteen or fifteen years, and certainly no more, approached and measured a tee-shirt across my chest and said: “that will do, you’re about my father's size.' She smiled as spontaneously as her impromptu and instinctive gesture. Somewhere beyond the entanglement of words two human beings had met. Some minutes later, as I walked through the mall, she and her brother or boyfriend or whoever - it doesn't matter who - passed. Again she woke me from my reverie, smiled and said: “I got it, thanks.” I smiled and said “good.” In a world rife with suspicion and gross mistrust of every stranger I am almost startled at this genuine human openness. I am reminded of Brendan Kennelly's veritable eulogy to such times of innocent openness between country folk when he was a youngster on the streets of Ballylongfort in Kerry. I can still hear him recounting how as a little boy he would listen to the stories of the old men and women and especially the blacksmith. Probably, and hopefully such trust still obtains today in similar country areas. It is all but dead in the cities. As I sit and type these lines the thought of such a simple gesture as this one today makes me rejoice in humanity. We hear too much of its deeper, darker and sicker side - its depravities, enslavements and impoverisments. We read too much of crime and too little of sin. It is the age of the voyeur and voyeurism - of cheap and sordid thrills. We hear and read too little of the goodness of humankind - its lightness, its love, its sincerity, integrity, innocence and wholeness. I will remember you, dear girl, as a straw of hope blowing on the winds of destiny; as a ray of light in a somewhat darkened world. You will enlighten more than one day, more than one soul, with your love. A picture I took of a small statuette (astride my computer in my study) made from lava rock (purchased on one of my many trips to Sicily) - it depicts the pieta' set in two open and caring hands - a beautiful insight into life, no?

Living in The Present Moment

A  Walk On the Beach: Or Living in the Present Moment

On the beach today children were running in the sun, the sand and the water. Their shouts of joy had to be savoured like a good Christmas dinner. It was a gift to be old, young, middle aged or any age - a marvel to be alive. Lovers were walking arm in arm. Joggers were coaxing more miles from limber limbs. The kites were flying high and colourful in the breeze. Two wind-buggies, under skilful hands and acute eyes, flew along the strand. In the distance boys played ball to the rhythms of the sea, and little girls screamed in delight at the power of the surf.

Further along, beyond the wind shelter, a man carefully picked his way through the rocks, and plunged into the cool shock of the sea. The plunging down was good, then a head surfaced, and arms rhythmically caressed the water. You would think the very sea was breathing. Another head, bobbing up and down, followed the straight edge of the pier. Two women passed, talking of their holidays in the sun - Tenerife, Costa del Sol, the Canaries or God knows where. Another person was talking about going for medical tests. Indistinct voices of swimmers rose up from the shelters to greet the passers-by. It was the magic talk of sailors who had been to exotic lands. There was laughter and life in the air. Two boys, excitedly talking to each other, fished from the side of the bridge. Bicycles, cars and motorbikes passed. The sun had coaxed so many out from under the privacy of their own roofs. Everyone was occupied in doing something or nothing. It was a gift to sit as well as to do.

All too quickly the walker was by the side of the main coast road. It was after five in the evening, and the traffic was streaming home from work. Radios blared in some cars. Most just sped home, unperturbed and unknowing in their own little world. You could still see the sea and hear the call of the sea fowl. The walker could easily identify the excited piping of the oyster catchers.  On the far side of the road the park beckoned, waving trees and shrubs in invitation. But that was a walk for another more sedate and tidy day.

After the noise of the traffic and the smell of exhaust fumes, the causeway stretched out a warm invitation. More birds sang, whistled and screamed all unknown to the untutored ear of the walker. Still it was a lively and invigorating sound, natural and unspoiled. Along the pathway unidentified wildflowers gave the lie to those who only saw weeds. A flock of redshanks shot across the causeway, and was met by flight of oystercatchers coming in the other direction. A girl passed smiling, listening to another music. On the left there were golfers teeing off - a different world entirely.

At the round-about cars were busily entering and exiting from the beach. There was still much life in the air. The walker spotted a bench, a welcome rest. Then there was time to sit, be still and listen to the self. There were some six books in the rucksack, but he did not bother opening any of them. Instead he took his pen and some paper. It was time to write down anything from his teeming brain. There was so much going on, so much to see, so much to hear, and so much to listen to. He could smell the seaweed, the salt in the air, the sand, the marrem and the twist of vegetation. How could one refuse to write down some words that might pay homage to such marvels? As he wrote a big red car passed. The driver, a big rosy-cheeked old man, was unselfconsciously doing his Pavarotti imitation act. A family was packing up for the homeward journey. A lifeguard passed, a day's work done.

The walker knew that he could so easily have been elsewhere. The day itself could have been so much worse weather-wise. One might almost believe there was no suffering, death or dying in the world. One might further assume that parents never fought, that children never threw tantrums and that adolescents never rebelled. One might almost believe that there was no evil on the very planet. He had thought and written too much about those things before. Today it was good to be alive and marvel in the persistence of life to deny its own vulnerability, even if it was only to be for an hour or two on the beach on a summer’s day. Now is the most important moment in your whole life, the walker thought. As he returned to the car, he plucked some grass and tasted its sap. All the senses must rejoice on such a day as this!

The above is a very interesting picture which I took of a footprint in the sand at Donabate beach some weeks back. It seems to be standing out in relief rather than being indented in the sand. An optical illusion I should imagine!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Another timely piece from the Quinlan archive!

All of a Piece - Thoughts on the Eve of the Millennium Today a young woman of nineteen was swept to her death by a freak wave while walking along the coast at Kilkee, county Clare and a New Age traveller was murdered by a fellow irate motorist after a minor traffic accident somewhere in Tipperary. While I write a dramatist on the radio is presenting a programme in honour of the person who most influenced his work - a singer, no less, one Elvis Costello. The resonance in his voice, the depth, the strength of it moves me. I don't know why. His honesty cuts to the quick, as all honesty should. He weaves his plays from the very stuff of life. Who is the dramatist in question? The one and only Frank McGuinness. Elvis is still singing on. And yet those two unconnected deaths have some strange connection with these voices I'm hearing, those of the playwright and the singer and with the heart or mind that shapes these words. Images flash across my mind, register somewhere on the cerebral cortex, form a pattern - images of a receding century, a receding millennium. The newspapers are awash with them. Young men with vacant eyes watching from their trenches. Another group from that very same war linked in a chain of blindness, hand upon shoulder upon shoulder as they wait to be attended to, having being blinded by poisonous gas. I don't believe in the millennium, but I do believe in history. The images are there for us to see. The little Vietnamese girl fleeing in pain as the napalm burns into her flesh. There are happy pictures, too, of course. They bear mentioning, somehow. I am no Jonah or Jeremiah. There are the smiling faces. Walt Disney - he who captured the heart of the child with his world of fantasy, smiles at me with Mickey Mouse balanced on his knee. Or Albert Einstein sticking out his tongue in jest causes momentary amusement! What a great tongue he had! All the better to jeer with! All the better to kiss or make love with! And Einstein according to scholars was a great lover too! The great Jesse Owens winning four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. What a feat! The faces of Paul McCartney and John Lennon smile from the Cavern Club in Liverpool. I was three then. Images come and go. Then the scientific discoveries - beyond belief in their complexity. From nuclear fission to nuclear fusion; from Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space to Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. Space shuttles and space stations, emblems of man's quest for knowledge - in the words of the famous Captain Kirk of Star Ship Enterprise, "to boldly go where no one has ever gone before." Or is it more truly a tribute to our pride or hubris as the ancient Greeks put it? Probably both. Our ship is unsinkable - like the Titanic! A century of holocausts from Jews to Japs, from Cyclon B Gas to Atom Bombs. A century of music from blues to jazz to rock and roll and beyond. Then that haunting picture from a graveyard in Sarajevo from 1992. It shows a musician playing a requiem on the saddest of all instruments, the cello, among the tombstones of the fallen in the Heroes' Cemetery. I can almost hear the music, the sad strains creeping among the small coffin-shaped headstones where fresh flowers are brought daily. A century of highs and lows. Yet here we are eating and drinking our Christmas fare unperturbed. Well maybe not. Perhaps we are a little discomfitted, even a little disturbed by the depths humankind can go to. That's no bad thing! It prevents us getting too overwhelmed, too intoxicated by the dizzy heights we have scaled. That's no bad thing! That might not be a bad chorus, that, if this were a song. And what has all this to do with the young woman swallowed by the sea or the young man stabbed to death or the dramatist waxing lyrical about the giant of a musician sitting on his shoulders or with the novels I am reading? Perhaps everything. The world is of a piece, a seamless cloak, a giant web of interconnections, of unknown, unexpressed significances demanding expression. Each one of us must attempt our own individual and unique synthesis and understanding of the mystery unveiled daily before our very eyes. Otherwise we run the risk of being lost in a sea of incomprehension and confusion, or being a mindless ant on a giant impersonal anthill. The choice is ours. As Socrates said, "the unexamined life is not worth living." I, for one, think he was right. There may be no great answers, but there are really great questions. And then the search, the looking for, the seeking out of those answers, maybe that's what it's all about? Maybe that's what makes all the difference? The above piece was written on Dec 31 1999, the turn of the Millennium. I still subscribe to the thoughts I typed then. I am placing an image of the philosopher Socrates at the top of this post. We need good sound moral critics of his sort today!

William Blake

William Blake - Prophet and Mystic

History has always thrown up amazing geniuses.  There can be few more talented and extraordinary than William Blake (1757-1827).  The list of his accomplishments is wide and varied: poet, artist, engraver, mystic and prophet.  We are all acquainted with his simpler lyrics and even with his more popular engravings from our school days.  However, behind these seemingly effortless and simple verses lies a complex and talented man of vision.  Behind the popular engravings lurks a restless soul and talented artist.

It is rewarding to know at least a little about the life and work of this great genius.  Reading his poetry and studying his paintings and engravings can bring much pleasure and not a little insight into Blake's mystical vision.  I have highlighted the twin roles of prophet and mystic as the title of this paper because I believe they get to the heart of this man's creative work, and inspire all his other work from poetry to art, from his spirituality to his political and revolutionary beliefs.

Preliminary Remarks:

Before setting out to read Blake, one should realise that he was almost completely self-taught.  This would probably account for much of his unconventional spelling and punctuation, and for his inconsistent use of terminology in his longer and more complex works.  Also it is important to bear in mind that he was rebellious in spirit and just did not like to conform.  He was original to a fault.  Having spent seven years as an apprentice engraver, he progressed to study art at the Royal Academy but quit after a year because he rebelled against the aesthetic doctrines of its president, Sir Joshua Reynolds.  In writing his poetry he also broke with convention by rejecting the high neoclassical style and modes of thought then current, preferring a simple and direct style as exemplified in his lyrics.  He was a nonconformist in religion, being born into a Dissenting tradition that encouraged extemporary hymn-singing.  Hence much of his religious thoughts were unorthodox and even heretical by the standards of the more orthodox Christian churches.  However, having borne these preliminary qualifications in mind, we can still find his writings inspiring and personally enriching.

Early Influences:

The influences on Blake were the Bible in which he was steeped, the Bible-derived epics of Dante and Milton, the hymns of Charles Wesley, and the writings of two eccentric and highly unorthodox visionaries and mystics, Jakob Boehme (b.1575) and Emanuel Swedenborg (b.1688).  A considerable influence in the artistic field was Michelangelo Buonarotti.

Blake as Prophet:

As I have outlined Blake was born into a Dissenting Protestant tradition and consequently remained a religious, political and artistic rebel throughout his life.  As a child he claimed to have seen the prophet Ezekiel sitting under a tree. At four he tells us that he saw God looking through his bedroom window. He had early incurred his father's wrath for expressing these strong images.  He insisted that he had been granted visions and that he could translate these visions into poetry and designs which interfused pictures and words.  Jakob Bronowski puts it succinctly saying that Blake had a strongly visual mind and that 'whatever he imagined he also saw.'

He always had that strong sense of justice we associate with the Biblical tradition of prophecy.  He numbered among his associates such English freethinkers and those concerned with the rights of human beings such as Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft.  He supported the promotion of democracy and the great tradition of Republicanism in both the American and French Revolutions, but quickly came to despair of all politics when Napoleon turned the Revolution in France into a tyranny.  His prophetic voice concerned with justice is to be heard forcefully in much of his poetry. He was concerned with the plight of little black boys and girls, of very young chimney sweepers, of those born and living in grinding poverty.  Notice how prophetic, biblical, and unfortunately quite contemporary, these lines from the poem Holy Thursday sound: "Is this a holy thing to see/ In a rich and fruitful land, / Babes reduc'd to misery... And so many children poor? / It is a land of poverty!"  Another well-known lyric is London which recounts much oppression from poverty to pointless war to the social injustices of growing cities.  Truly he realised, as he etched the following line on a copper plate, that "Cruelty has a human face."

Blake as Mystic:

Mysticism has been variously defined, but in general it refers to an experience of God.  It has been traditionally understood as a loving knowledge of God which is born from a personal encounter with the divine.  Mainline Churches have always been suspicious of mystics whether within or without their fold because they are very much pioneers who in some way seem to have a privileged access to God.  However, there is much support for such direct encounters with God from the prophets in the Old Testament to those mystics within the Catholic tradition.  Needless to say, mysticism in the general sense can in no way be confined to the Roman Catholic tradition.  For the Greeks the word 'mystic' referred to one to whom a secret knowledge of the divine mysteries had been given.  Over the centuries it came to refer to anyone who enjoyed contact and communion with the very source of all life, God Himself.  Consequently all the major religions of the world could boast of mystics within their individual traditions.  Blake may be called a mystic in this more general sense, in so far as he had a vision and experience of the unity that lies behind and is revealed through all Creation.  The following often quoted lines say more in their simplicity about Blake's mysticism than all the most learned exegesis can:

His mysticism was no private esoteric experience.  It was solidly expressed in acts of love.  William bravely nursed his ailing brother Robert who died in his twenty fifth year. He sat with him day and night without sleep, and was convinced that he was rewarded by seeing Robert's soul fly away to heaven.  Likewise he was devoted to his wife, Catherine Boucher, whom he taught to read and write and whom he later sketched on his deathbed.  Love was an inspiring energy he always sought to express in his own peculiar and unique Christian way:

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour -
(Auguries of Innocence)

Seek Love in the Pity of others' Woe,
In the gentle relief of another's care,
In the darkness of night and the winter's snow,
In the naked and outcast, Seek Love there!
(William Bond)

Without a shadow of a doubt William Blake was highly individualist, original and eccentric.  He believed he was inspired by the divine, by angels of all types, by intuitions appearing either as visions or voices. Consequently the power of the imagination was the most important and indeed the central faculty of humankind - for him it was nothing less than the vision of Eternity.  In practice for Blake salvation lay less in any arbitrary moral code and more in an imaginative and creative encounter with life through art in all its forms. He disliked drawing from life because it distracted him, he said, from his visions. Consequently he preferred such artists as Raphael and Michelangelo as his spiritual masters. Gothic art, he claimed, had more life and gave much more stimulus to his genius, than any posed living model ever could.  Most of his artistic works are illustrations for his poems and books.  All of them are splendidly original and visionary in quality, showing powerfully muscular figures inspired by enormously dramatic events and concepts.  His figures, although evidently muscular, are strangely insubstantial and unearthly, often surrounded by a supernatural light. A lot of his art is inspired by Biblical themes.  Perhaps one of his best known images is The Ancient of Days, or God Creating the Universe. His Illustrations to the Book of Job and The Raising of Lazarus are also masterly works.  Consultation with a good edition of his plates or illustrations is a must, and viewing them in tandem with reading the texts which they illustrate an enriching experience.  In short dialogue between word and illustration is essential to the artistic experience of Blake.

Balance of Opposites:

As a Dissenting Protestant and mystic he insisted on the inwardness and universality of religious experience, on the presence or immanence of the divine spirit in all of life.  He had little time for elaborate theologies.  For him "God only acts or is, in existing beings or men." Like Jacob Boehme, whose writings he admired, he was profoundly aware that life and energy and all good things are generated between opposing principles.  He would remark that "Energy is Eternal Delight" and that "without Contraries there is no progression."  We can see this principle in action when we read Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.  Blake is insisting that innocence and experience can only be understood in the dialogue between the opposites which both are.  A lot of his later work is consequently Manichaean in tendency, that is, he goes so far as to see two principles at work within God Himself,  where God the Father becomes a symbol of terror and tyranny and Christ the Son is identified with all the spiritual goodness that exists.  As I have outlined Blake was a Dissenting, highly unorthodox, even heretical Protestant, but it is salutary to remind ourselves that many of the early Saints of the Church were also heretical.  Blake was no theologian, so expect many inconsistencies and much unorthodoxy in his writings.  He was simply a self-taught gifted artist, poet and visionary convinced of the reality of the unseen or spiritual world.  He was often profound, but never a rational or tidy thinker.  Gerald Bullett, in his excellent book, The English Mystics (1950), makes the valid point that no one can or should swallow Blake whole.  One must read him with discrimination and objectivity, aware of the blatant contradictions, inconsistencies and heresies.  When one does so, one can delight in the sheer energy and genius of the man, the honesty and integrity of the artist, the depth of his convictions, the power of his imagination, his love for the simple things of life, his hatred of hypocrisy in all its guises and the power of his mystical vision:

God appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in Night,
But does a Human Form Display
To those that Dwell in Realms of Day.
(Auguries of Innocence)  


The image I have placed centre above is one of my favourite of Blake's paintings - it's The Ancient of Days or God the Father in the act of Creating (Designing) the Universe.

Monday, August 07, 2006

A Short Essay I wrote in December 1999: Still Timely

A Classic well worth reading: All Quiet on The Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

There are books and there are books: bad ones, good ones, very good ones and excellent ones. What are the criteria for measuring their quality? After years of study I'm still not too sure. I suppose in the final analysis it's almost a matter of taste, though not quite. I like to think of books in terms of depth versus shallowness. In between the two extremes of this scale there lies a multitude of degrees of quality. To talk about the depth-shallow scale is certainly not the same as the heavy-light distinction. A heavy book would refer, to my mind at least, to something academic, to something that certainly would not be bed-time reading. These books certainly are good, very good and some excellent. They are a must for every student and for the advancement of knowledge. A light book might be something like a thriller that you would bring on holiday. Books of this kind are also important for our enjoyment and relaxation. We need them now and again simply to unwind.

Back now to my depth-shallow distinction - my effort to distinguish between what's good and bad in literature for me, and I emphasise again, for me, though perhaps much of what I say will strike a chord in many readers' hearts. A good book, I contend, is one which draws one towards depth. It really does not matter where one is on the depth-shallow scale, provided, of course, that one is drawn in the right direction, towards depth, that is. In short, a good book makes one think, question one's own values, challenge one's prejudices and feel with a new heart. Let me illustrate.

I have just finished reading what is without question a classic - a classic war novel to be precise. It has lain unread on my shelves for years, seventeen to be precise. Now that I have put it down, I question myself as to why I did not read it years ago. I have literally been consumed by it as an account of the gruesome experience of war. It has moved me as seldom I have been moved before. The novel is All Quiet On The Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. It is a novel that unquestionably draws one towards depth.

Certainly man's inhumanity to man is delineated therein very vividly. We have accounts of a soldier still running several steps even though his head has been blown clear away and blood is spurting up from the chopped neck, or of a man's back having been blown off to reveal the two breathing lungs etc. But it is not just the clarity of such descriptions that terrify, but rather the impact they had on a generation of young soldiers, those lucky enough to escape this holocaust with their lives. They were left numbed beyond belief. Witness the inability of Paul, the hero-narrator of the tale, to reconnect with so-called civilization, even with his family, when he goes home on leave after two years at the Front.

This book makes the reader think. It makes him or her question the values of the societies which sent young lads of eighteen plus out to meet the horrors of war. It further makes one question the values inherent in any society: greed and power, the lust for possessions on the one hand and the desire to dominate and subjugate on the other. There is an interesting line of questioning pursued by the young soldiers as regards the relevance of the education they had received at school. Their considerations are still relevant to today's debate as regards our own system of education. Is civilisation with all its rules, regulations, religious ceremonies and red tape just a veneer? Scratch the surface and you get just little puny, insignificant human beings longing to fill their bellies, satisfy their sexual urges, have their hour in the sun, procreate and die? Is civilisation after all just an elaborate game to while away the time until our last breath?

The human heart is larger than any race, creed or religion. This book teaches this significant fact brilliantly and effectively. One moving moment in the book is where Paul has to slit a Frenchman's throat in No Man's Land. He has to cower in this shell hole for a night and a day and witness the soldier gradually groaning to his death. His monologue to the dying Frenchman and eventual corpse is a moving indictment of the futility of war and a heart-felt plea for the brotherhood of all, irrespective of nationality, colour or creed.

All Quiet On The Western Front invites us to enter the depths of hell of the First World War with its hero, Paul Baumer. But more than that, this book invites us to move ever closer to depth, away from surface and superficiality. It scratches away the false veneer of pomp, sham, and the comedy of manners that is life as we live it. It invites us also to strip away the scales of deception and prejudice from our own eyes. In short, this book is a classic in many senses, and especially because it makes us confront our own inhumanity deep in our own hearts and in our own souls. What better and more challenging book could we read as we approach the eve of the third millennium?