Tag Archives: Literary Criticism & Theory

The Spiritual Sayings of Kahlil Gibran

Magdalene Meretrix reviews The Spiritual Sayings of Kahlil Gibran [Amazon, Abebooks, Local Library] in the Bkwyrm’s Occult Book Reviews archive.

Gibran Spiritual Sayings of Kahlil Gibran

“The art of the Egyptians is in the occult.
The art of the Chaldeans is in calculation.
The art of the Greeks is in proportion.
The art of the Romans is in echo.
The art of the Chinese is in etiquette.
The art of the Hindus is in the weighing of good and evil.
The art of the Jews is in the sense of doom.
The art of the Arabs is in reminiscence and exaggeration.
The art of the Persians is in fastidiousness.
The art of the French is in finesse.
The art of the English is in analysis and self-righteousness.
The art of the Spaniards is in fanaticism.
The art of the Italians is in beauty.
The art of the Germans is in ambition.
The art of the Russians is in sadness.”

Kahlil Gibran, best known for his book “The Prophet,” was a great mystic and captivating writer. This collection of aphorisms, short-short stories and one short play is small but it packs a big punch.

Though Gibran falls into moralizing towards the end in pieces like “Your Lebanon and Mine” where he says to those who see only the political, warring side of Lebanon, “Remember that you are naught. But when you realize your littleness, my aversion to you will change into sympathy and affection. It is a pity that you do not understand, You have your Lebanon and I have mine.” or “Your Thought and Mine” where he says, “Your thought speaks of the beautiful woman, the ugly, the virtuous, the prostitute, the intelligent, and the stupid. Mine sees in every woman a mother, a sister, or a daughter of every man.” these forays into claimed superiority serve as veins in marble rather than blemishes. Moreover, Gibran tells us, “Our worst fault is our preoccupation with the faults of others.” thus confessing his humanity. Gibran is not a god to be worshipped, he is a brother toiling alongside one in the struggle for enlightenment and peace.

Gibran occasionally lapses into bitterness in his aphorisms though this bitterness mainly centers around being a man without a home or nation. This is entirely reasonable, considering that much of this book was written while Gibran was in exile from his country and excommunicated from his church.

Gibran has been called the Dante of the twentieth century. Orientals call him the Beloved Master. He has been compared to William Blake and to Rodin – in fact, he was commissioned to paint the latter’s portrait. Though born in and in love with Lebanon, Gibran is a mystic for all lands and all religions. As the Beloved Master himself said, “God made Truth with many doors to welcome every believer who knocks on them.”

The Great Code

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Great Code: The Bible and Literature [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Northrop Frye.

Frye The Great Code

While carefully distinguishing the Bible from the various categories of secular literature, Northrop Frye applies the techniques and perspectives of his work in literary criticism to it in The Great Code. (The title phrase, like most of Frye’s, is a quote from Blake.) The book works in an exploratory fashion that proceeds from the atomic level of language, through myth and metaphor, to the continuities involved in biblical typology. Then he traces the same arc in reverse, to integrate what he had previously analyzed. 

Frye makes no pleas on behalf of supernatural agency or religious institutions. He discusses the Bible as a textual curiosity, and works to demonstrate the worth it can have for thoughtful readers, as well as the contributions that it has made to the mental infrastructure of our civilization. In the denouement of this volume, the first of several he would eventually write about the Bible, Frye cites Nietzsche and Feuerbach, and muses about magic and sexuality. As always, he is a lively and elegant writer.

I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys serious literature, and yet is tempted to dismiss the Bible as an anthology of ancient superstitions. It may also be a useful tonic for those who view the Bible as their own sectarian playground–although it is less likely to endear itself to them. For me, it mostly served as a convenient review and lucid exposition of ideas I had previously considered; but there were definitely fresh nuggets to be discovered throughout.

The Postmodern Explained

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Postmodern Explained: Correspondence 1982-1985 [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Jean-François Lyotard, edited by Julian Pefanis and Morgan Thomas, trans. Barry Don, Bernadette Maher, Julian Pefanis, Virginia Spate, and Morgan Thomas, afterword by Wlad Godzich.

Lyotard Godzich The Postmodern Explained

Postmoderne expliqué aux enfants could potentially be read as “The New Aeon Explained for Babes of the Abyss.” Lyotard suggests that modernity is characterized by a critical position common to Augustine and Kant, contrasting with the “empiricocritical or pragmatic” posture of the postmodern. (63) Technoscience and capital together have effected an “escape of reality from the metaphysical.” (9)

The author has sometimes been misunderstood as an advocate for the postmodern, rather than a diagnostician of it, and in several pieces of the correspondence collected here the reader can see his frustration that the public misses his opposition to “capitalism’s regime of pseudorationality and performativity.” (73) He is not at all smug about the demise of the elements of modernity that give way to the postmodern, but he is also convinced and convincing that retreat to the modern is not a viable option.

In discussing the failure of modern strategies of legitimation, he glosses Hegel to the effect that “the sole normative instance, the sole source of law, the sole y, is pure will — which is never this or that, never determined, but simply the potential to be all things. So it judges any particular act, even when it is prescribed by law and executed according to the rules, as failing to live up to the ideal. Terror acts on the suspicion that nothing is emancipated enough — and makes it into a politics.” (54) While the ideology of capitalism does not itself give rise to such terror (because it deals in evanescent needs rather than final norms), it is still vulnerable to it, in ways that have become ever more evident in the decades since Lyotard wrote the “Memorandum on Legitimation” that is the longest of the missives and essays collected here.

The afterword by Wlad Godzich constitutes an insightful summary of Lyotard’s efforts prior to the publication of Postmoderne expliqué, and it might be profitable to read it first for those who have no previous familiarity with either The Postmodern Condition or The Differend. Reading it myself, I conclude that it will indeed be the child who will master the aeon, but I also register how difficult the achievement of childhood is becoming.