Total Depravity or the Failure of Creation: A Review of Roland Boer’s Nick Cave: A Study of Love, Death & Apocalypse

“I don’t believe in an interventionist God
But I know, darling, that you do”
– Into My Arms

“I believe in God
I believe in mermaids too
I believe in 72 virgins on a chain
Why not? Why not?”
– Mermaids

The incredibly prolific Roland Boer is perhaps best known for his monumental Criticism of Heaven and Earth series which traces the importance and engagement with religion one finds in Marxist thought (currently three of the projected five volumes have been published). Among the books we would expect to find, including his recent collection The Earthly Nature of the Bible seeing him returning to his primary training in biblical studies in order to uncover the earthy and crude character of much of the Bible, his recent book on Nick Cave might seem a strange addition. Yet what we find here is typical of Boer’s work in general; combining a clarity of writing, ease with difficult concepts, genuine insights, and all presented with his typical crude and roguish sense of humor. More importantly what we find it is not some hobbyhorse book, but one that offers a genuinely interesting reading of Nick Cave’s artistic output (more on that below) and which fits within Boer’s own research agenda of Marxism and theology.  Here I will outline the contents of the book before turning to a disagreement I hope can move along into an interesting conversation. Continue reading “Total Depravity or the Failure of Creation: A Review of Roland Boer’s Nick Cave: A Study of Love, Death & Apocalypse

Review of William H. Gass’s Middle C

A good many of you will, I think, find much joy from reading William H. Gass’s forthcoming (March 12) novel, Middle C. If most of us cannot totally relate to its depiction of a scholar who has faked his way into her/his profession, I am surely not alone in identifying with the proliferation of selves & self-doubts that themselves identify the novel’s protagonist. Where William Kohler in The Tunnel is the diabolical embodiment of the banality of evil, to grab at a blurby cliche, Joseph Skizzen in Middle C is the clumsy bumbling into the evil of banality. What’s the difference, you may wonder? My short reply: where evil as a banal inevitability renders us more or less complicit as we wait for the hammer to fall (think the lull just before the final blast of Mahler’s 6th Symphony and the suspense that endures every subsequent listen), banality as necessary evil discovers the notes that survive the din of life’s repetitions (think the B-flat tonic whirr of the computer breathing into your consciousness like a breathy crank-caller when you’re reading Twitter).

And if that doesn’t sell you on it, there are a number of amazing lectures on the history of modern music that will have you racing to build a Spotify/Pandora soundtrack.

In any event, this is all a prelude to a link to my review, which I think turned out pretty well.

Review of Steven Poole’s You Aren’t What You Eat

Toward the end of Steven Poole’s You Aren’t What You Eat: Fed Up with Gastroculture, he deploys a C.S. Lewis quote that is probably familiar to many of us:

You can get a large audience together for a strip-tease act — that is, to watch a girl undress on the stage. Now suppose you come to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let everyone see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food?

Writing specifically of the U.K., but presumably thinking of Americans as well, Poole writes: “We all live in that country now.” As a skeptic of what Poole calls “foodism,” I found his absolutely exhaustive skewering of food culture enjoyable — his debunking of the exaggerated claims of “organic” food, his bemusement at “molecular gastronomy,” and everything in between. He catches every detail, including the fact that certain food sensitivies can be “fashionable” (woe to the foodist who is glucose-tolerant!).

Naturally, this book has sparked some defensiveness in the foodist community — even The Girlfriend, an avid cook, felt she was under attack when I initially described the book’s premise to her. What I find interesting about the book, though, is that it doesn’t fall into the trap of pure yuppie-bating that you see in something like Stuff White People Like (nor, though this goes without saying for those familiar with Poole’s work, does it take the Palinesque route of fetishizing fast food and store-bought cookies).

Now Poole admittedly doesn’t have a program for truly authetic eating, because his book finally isn’t about eating, any more than the foodist trend is. It’s about class structure, about ideology (including a nod to Zizek’s “superego injunction to enjoy” on the final page), about a society that has reached “the apotheosis and dead end of individualistic consumerism.” It’s about a massive, multi-faceted cultural trend that commands us to devote as much time and attention to consumption as possible — and then to congratulate ourselves for our achievement and look down on those who fail to attain our high level.

That is to say, it isn’t about silly individuals who are doing pretentious things and should stop before they embarrass themselves further, but about a society whose demands are increasingly dehumanizing and sinister. And it makes this case while nonetheless being thoroughly entertaining. In short: highly recommended.

Adventures in Book Reviewing

Is it just me, or does it make little to no sense to have people who openly admit their hatred for an author review said author’s work?

The early reviews of Pynchon’s Inherent Vice have been, at least in the various New York press, similarly negative.  What’s interesting is that they have tended to be equally dismissive of Against the Day. (Kakutani went so far as to describe Against the Day as “pretentious,” but I cannot for the life of me figure out what it is feigning to be other than, well, a Pynchon novel.)  Curiously, I don’t recall this being articulated so clearly and loudly in its reviews.  (Most just said it was, in varying degrees, unreadable — code for, I think, “I didn’t read it all, but wanted the money for writing this review.”   Another code for this same sentiment is: “This is a flawed masterpiece.”)  It is, as Adam said I were discussing just now, as though reviewers are using this shorter novel to more fully express their disdain for being expected to read Pynchon’s more typical (i.e., longer) stuff.   In short, they conclude: “We hate Pynchon when he’s being ambitious, and then we hate him even more when he writes a shorter book that’s more fun.”

Summary and Review of Christ, History and Apocalyptic

Tim Furry has begun a two-part summary and review of my recent book on his blog, to which I will eventually be responding with a guest post. 

Also, thanks to the efforts of Ben Myers over at the Faith and Theology blog, Cascade books is offering a special “limited time” 40% discount on purchases of my book.  To receive the discount, just go to the Wipf and Stock/Cascade Books website, and when you proceed to check out enter the special coupon code:  KERR40

UPDATE:  Part II of Tim’s review, with his initial set of critical comments and questions, has now been posted here.

UPDATE 2:  Part III of Tim’s review as now been posted here, along with an update/addendum here.