Friday, January 30, 2015

Tibet I

Since my son-in-law is one hundred percent Tibetan and my grandson is fifty percent Tibetan, I decided to investigate Tibetan history and am currently reading Tibet: A History, by Sam van Schaik in an effort to acquire a basic knowledge of Tibet's historical background. I'll comment a little on that in this post. I am also interested in the Dalai Lama and the current situation in Tibet, which both seem distorted by the American media. I will make a post on that later, when I've finished the book.

The Tibet of the seventh century reminds me of Britain at the time. Tibet was filled with various tribes, clans and local deities, and so was Britain. However, Tibet was already becoming a recognizable political unit under the tsenpo, or divine ruler, Songtsen Gampo, who ruled from 629 to 649, while Britain consisted of several kingdoms made up of various indigenous Celtic tribes and Germanic tribes which had arrived since the departure of the Romans in 410. Christianity was growing in popularity in Britain, especially after Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in 597, whereas Tibet had yet to embrace a modern religion. The practice of intermarriage between the ruling families of clans was popular in both Europe and Asia as a method of reducing conflict. In both Tibet and Britain, progress was impeded by the lack of a standardized written language. Written English evolved over many centuries to its present form, whereas Songsten Gampo created the characters of the Tibetan alphabet with the help of Tonmi, a Tibetan selected to travel to India for that purpose.

When Trisong Detsen became tsenpo in 755, he played a defining role in making Buddhism the state religion of Tibet. The reasons why he chose to support Buddhism aren't entirely clear. Though Tibetans also had exposure to Christianity, Islam and Manichaeism, by this time Buddhism had gained a following. Trisong Detsen recruited Buddhists from Nepal and Pakistan and began building a network of Buddhist monasteries. During this period, Buddhism was unpopular in the Tibetan court, and there were doctrinal disputes. After a debate arranged between Chinese and Indian scholars, Trisong Detsen declared that the Indian form of Buddhism would henceforth be the model followed in Tibet. Subsequently, Buddhist scriptures comprising the equivalent of three hundred volumes were translated into Tibetan. Incongruously, during his reign Trisong Detsen also waged major military campaigns that extended the Tibetan empire to its largest geographical range ever, lasting through the eighth and ninth centuries.

Whatever one's religious perspective, it is easy to see that the modern religions have evolved in conjunction with modern political systems. When large nations come into existence, there must be some ideological basis that keeps people "on the same page." Without this cohesion, countries that encompass extensive geographical areas are more likely to collapse. Thus theocracies have played a significant role in the transition from the predominance of clans and warlords to the modern state. From my point of view, the specific religion in each case may not be all that important. Christianity worked in Britain and Buddhism worked in Tibet. In both cases regional gods and spirits gave way to a unifying religious theme. Their centers of religion became their centers of literacy and education, affecting cultural values for centuries.

Seen in this light, I think it is a mistake to make a point of looking for better religions, since the real purpose of religion has more to do with social unity than with any meaningful truths. Politically speaking, we are on the road to a secular state that will render all theocracies obsolete. In this regard the Islamic states and Israel are on the wrong side of history, though religious conservatives in the U.S. don't seem that far behind. Whether you want to consider secular humanism a religion or not, in historical terms that seems to be a more promising belief system than any of its predecessors.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Social Snubs

In a continuation of the general theme of my last post, I thought it would be beneficial to discuss a specific type of negative act inflicted on others and the damage that it causes. For obvious reasons, people don't like to think about these sorts of things, because they recall painful experiences. In looking back at my life, however, I have found it advantageous to examine in some detail the major social snubs I've received, because it has the same therapeutic value as psychoanalysis - and you can do it at your leisure without paying anyone!

The first major social snub that I underwent was in fifth or sixth grade. During recess, a boy told me that Mrs. Davis had told Mrs. Fischer that I was a "hood." Mrs. Davis was the mother of Teddy Davis, one of my classmates, and they were a wealthy family that lived in a large house in a rich part of town near Long Island Sound. I had spent the night there once, and Mrs. Davis had complimented me on my manners, so I was shocked and puzzled when I heard this. Mrs. Fisher, by the way, was the mother of another classmate, Mark, whose father was a doctor. In those days, being called a hood was a real insult. This was the peak of the doo-wop period in popular music, and there were in fact many lower-middle-class Italian immigrants living in the area who looked like classic greasers. Some of them even rode motorcycles, belonged to gangs and had connections with organized crime. I had no exposure to, let alone participation in, any of that, and after thinking about it for years, I decided that the insult must have had to do with the fact that we had moved to an apartment building. Prior to then, I hadn't known that there was a stigma associated with living in an apartment. I have since noticed that, especially in the suburbs, it is seen as a sign of being incompetent, irresponsible, lazy or lower class. Later on, in seventh and eighth grades, I was a borderline juvenile delinquent for a while, but never in my life did I deserve the label "hood."

After sixth grade Teddy Davis went to private schools, and I never saw him again. The Davises became for me the quintessential snobby Wasp family. It is impossible to know what prompted Mrs. Davis to make the statement, if in fact she did, but it certainly had an effect on my social self-image for many years. From that point on I became aware of the stigma associated with having less money than other people. Throughout high school I was conscious of the fact that nearly all of my friends had wealthier parents than mine. I didn't then and still don't care about being wealthy, and this set me on a path that led to my current tendency to be a social critic.

The next big snub, which is not how I thought of it at the time or how most people would, occurred when my wife divorced me in 1985. Because of the fuzziness of her thinking, it is often difficult to make out her motives. There was no obvious reason for the divorce: no infidelities, abusive behavior or alcoholism. I had been unemployed early in the marriage but by the time of the divorce I had a steady full-time job and was enrolled in a part-time M.B.A. program. After thinking about this for many years, I now believe that the divorce is best seen as a social snub. To figure this one out, I had to do an analysis of my ex-wife in absentia.

As mentioned in an earlier post, my ex-wife had a somewhat incoherent outlook on life because it contained two incompatible elements. On the one hand, she wanted to be a free-spirited hippie who didn't conform to parental demands, and on the other hand she wanted to have an upper-middle-class lifestyle in which her milieu would bestow high social status upon her. When we were married she worked as an R.N., and by the time we had our children she had developed a crush on her obstetrician, who delivered both of them. I think in the back of her mind she wanted to be like her Aunt Helen, who was married to a successful surgeon, lived an artsy upper-middle-class life and was a stay-at-home mother. Never mind that Aunt Helen was totally subservient to her husband, and that when he was at home it was as if God were present. My ex-wife's infatuation with doctors continues to this day in the form of making her medical care a full-time hobby, complete with medical tourism across the continent. As a practical matter, though, it hasn't worked out well at all: not long after the divorce, a doctor attempted to date rape her, and she hasn't dated since.

In this case, because my ex-wife was unable to explain her intentions well, I am drawing the conclusion that I was rejected socially because I did not provide sufficient prospect of supporting her in the manner that she expected, including social status, which a doctor might readily do. Our friends, her parents and I opposed the divorce, so it seems to make the most sense to see it as a move on her part to upgrade her social image by discarding an element which she thought detracted from it. For my part, I don't bear a grudge personally, but I do hold it against her that she was an incompetent mother. Even there I am willing to cut her slack, because I consider her mentally ill. She has paid a price by having the remainder of her life turn out far less ideal than she could ever have imagined.

A third significant snub occurred when my current partner suddenly and unexpectedly dumped me in 2002. We had known each other for a year, had been getting along well and had been on vacations together to Quebec and Venice. Soon we reconciled, but things were intermittently rocky until 2004, when we permanently reconciled. We have been living together since 2007. In this case, oddly, the snub was precipitated by a friend of my partner, otherwise I wouldn't be discussing it here.

This snub was reminiscent of my first snub, because it involved a Waspy person from Connecticut (though her ethnic background is Italian). Her nickname is Tweed, and she lives on the wealthy North Shore of Chicago. She is married to a lawyer, and my partner came to know her socially many years ago. Her ex-husband is also a lawyer and the husbands once worked at the same firm. I met Tweed at a Thanksgiving dinner at her house, and she later privately advised my partner, who had been dating various people after the divorce, telling her to dump me because I didn't measure up. In this instance the likely deficiency was money. Although my partner's ex-husband doesn't have much of a personality, lacks social skills, didn't care about raising children and would rather work than go on vacations, he had a high income and a respectable job, and those, apparently, are what count. I could have used Tweed's husband as another example in my post on uxoriousness. To my way of thinking, Tweed is out of control, and her husband doesn't have the nerve to do anything about it. Like a classic uxorious male, he follows her commands. Here, again, I think early compromises may play a hidden role. The main parameters are that Tweed is an attractive Waspy person with East Coast panache and her husband is a short Jewish guy from Iowa, probably harboring insecurities about all three. Technically we are on good terms with Tweed and her husband, and we attended the lavish wedding they held for one of their daughters in Cooperstown, New York the summer before last. However, there will probably never be any reason to see either of them ever again, which suits me. They strike me as superficial people who have adopted a lifestyle that was never of interest to me.

On the basis of these examples one might conclude that social snubs often have something to do with money. They have made me especially wary of Waspy people, and when we moved to Vermont I was a little concerned about running into a lot of them. Fortunately it appears that Vermont Wasps are more likely to be interested in frugality than conspicuous consumption, and that Vermont isn't the most attractive venue for social climbers. Overall I think money plays somewhat more of a social role in the Northeast than it does in the Midwest, because there has been more of it here for much longer. Most Midwesterners lived on farms up until about a century ago, and, living there myself for forty years, I detected far less emphasis on snobbery than I did growing up in New York, which has plenty of old money. I feel that I am fortunate in having the ability to ignore negative social pressures such as the ones mentioned here, but I think they are more problematic for most people, who are less secure and less aware of the workings of their social environments.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Hell is Other People

For a class called Other Minds that I took in college years ago we read the play No Exit, by Jean-Paul Sartre, in which the famous phrase "Hell is other people" is uttered by one of the characters. The context is that of three people who, it becomes apparent, are in Hell and are being punished for their sins by having to spend eternity speaking to each other in a room. This was a philosophy class, but I didn't particularly find No Exit philosophical. Nevertheless, it counts as good literature, and that phrase has stuck with me throughout my life.

As a person who enjoys being alone in my thoughts and observations, I am particularly sensitive to the intrusions of others. I recognize that I'm a social animal, but my social needs seem to be far less than those of most others, and now that I am free to spend my time as I wish I am more sensitized to intrusions when they occur. Since I don't socialize much and the people with whom I socialize tend to be low key, face-to-face interactions tend to be harmonious. Not having to deal with people in a commercial workplace has made life considerably less stressful for me. Many retirees feel at a loss as to how to spend their time and are bored with the idleness that retirement affords, while I feel freed of an unpleasant burden.

The notion that Hell is other people is an interesting one in itself. I see it as an unavoidable part of being human. Whether you put it in clinical terms, like eusociality, or conventional terms, like sociability, it comes to the same thing: our identities are interwoven with those of others. We derive most of our satisfactions from them and they from us at the cost of having the reverse equally true: they are a source of pain and suffering too.

Since I have the luxury of avoiding contact with most people whom I'd rather not encounter, lately that seems to occur for me mainly on the Internet. You have to choose Internet forums and blogs carefully, and even then unpleasantness is sure to surface occasionally. One kind of person who bothers me is one who dominates discussions and refuses to shut up when their agenda is clearly not your agenda. In effect they become bullies by forcing everyone on the forum or blog to adopt their preferences, whether they like it or not. This is especially problematic if, say, a dominant poster likes to keep everything light and airy while others would like to dig in deeper and have a more thoughtful discussion. More commonly I am annoyed by posters who are inarticulate, stupid, or both. This has led me to prefer websites that have few posters and which post topics that are accessible but more demanding than those found on most sites. A recurring problem that I've had has been disagreeing with someone, writing at length in an attempt to explain my point of view, and receiving only repetitive, uninformative, disapproving responses. I manage to avoid the most blatant trollish behavior, but those elements are often present.

When I think about this blog, although it sometimes seems pointless to continue it because it has so few readers, overall I'm glad that it isn't very active, because that could ruin it for me quickly.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Quote of the Day

Thus far the Americans seem to us to carry national pride altogether too far. I doubt whether it is possible to draw from them the least truth unfavorable to their country. Most of them boast about it without discernment and with an assertiveness that is disagreeable to strangers and that shows but little intelligence. In general it seems to me that there is much of the small town in their attitude and that they magnify objects like people who are not accustomed to seeing great things.


—Alexis de Tocqueville, diary entry, May 15, 1831, New York City

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Inspiration

Rumpled, torpid, bored, too tasteful to rhyme
"lethargy" with "laundry," or too lazy,
I'll not spend my afternoon at the desk
cunningly weaving subjunctives and lithe
skeins of barbed colloquial wire. Today

I loathe poetry. I hate the clotted,
dicty poems of the great modernists,
disdainful of their truant audience,
and I hate also proletarian
poetry, with its dutiful rancors

and sing-song certainties. I hate
poetry readings and the dreaded verb
"to share." Let me share this knife with your throat,
suggested Mack. Today I'm a gnarl, a knot,
a burl. I'm furled in on myself and won't

be opened. I'm the bad mood if you try
to cheer me out of I'll smack you. Impasse
is where I come to escape from. It takes
a deep belief in one's ignorance;
it takes, I tell you, desperate measures.


—William Matthews

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Dark Side of Utopianism

A few years ago I made the mistake of reading Gilead, the novel by Marilynne Robinson, on the basis of a recommendation. It is one of the most boring novels I've ever read, and I found it intellectually offensive. Robinson is a Christian apologist who is trying to reconstruct Calvinism in an earlier form from which it has deviated considerably over the centuries, presumably in an attempt to make it more palatable to contemporaries. My assessment of Gilead is quite different from that of others: it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2005 and is said to be one of Barack Obama's favorites. I interpret Robinson as a utopian thinker who has not learned from, or perhaps doesn't care about history. She is evangelizing her religious point of view as if she has found true religion, just like millions of others before her. What makes this especially offensive to me is that Robinson has good credentials as an intellectual and a writer. Though I don't claim to be an expert on religious history, I'll say a little about the problems created by religion.

America was settled by religious lunatics. From the earliest days they were fighting amongst themselves and persecuting or kicking out members who didn't conform. In certain respects, many of the groups can be described as utopian. Some groups seem relatively benign. The Rappites, an industrious group of Germans, built a prosperous town from scratch in the Indiana wilderness and didn't bother anyone. Other groups, like the Puritans, were always picking on nonconformists, one of whom was Ethan Allen, the unruly Vermont settler who resisted the Great Awakening, contributing to his frequent moves. Then there were outright frauds or crackpots like Joseph Smith, who founded Mormonism and was killed by a mob in Carthage, Illinois. In the early days, many parts of the U.S. were regional theocracies. Middlebury, Vermont, where I live, had only one religion, Congregational, and all landowners had to pay a tax to the church whether they belonged or not. The church was given 100 acres next to the 100 acre Town Plot, and there was a 100 acre Minister's Right to the south. With a mixed background like this it is hard to imagine that the U.S. was based on any comprehensive notion of Christianity.

All religions morph over time, and the U.S. has received refugees from religious conflicts worldwide. This may have made it somewhat less stable ideologically than other parts of the world that had been dominated by single religions for hundreds or thousands of years. As a product of the Enlightenment, the foundation of the U.S. would have been an excellent opportunity to create a secular state. However, the predominance of Christian denominations among the early settlers has made the U.S. a de facto Christian nation. The separation of church and state technically exists, but not in the minds of many of the public. They still need to be trained to think of government as secular and to restrict their religious sentiments to their private lives.

As noted in my post on Thomas Malthus, the Romantic branch of the Enlightenment left a lot of room for anti-science. Although I am sympathetic with certain aspects of Romanticism, I now conclude that intellectually it has led to many undesirable consequences. What I think of as the intellectually rigorous strand of the Enlightenment follows the sciences: Newton, Darwin, Mendel, Pasteur, Einstein, etc. The soft strand, Romanticism, is associated with religion, the arts, the humanities and governance: Locke, Rousseau, Wordsworth, Rawls, etc. It will be apparent to those of you who have read my previous posts that I believe that science should play a greater role in determining systems of governance. The West hasn't come to terms with the fact that its notion of freedom is not compatible with human nature in a way that is likely to be sustainable politically or environmentally. Contemporary theories of individual freedom can be traced to a time when land seemed inexhaustible, global pollution was inconceivable and conflicting ideologies were less problematic. American governance seems to assume, without evidence, that humans are inherently good. In my opinion, there has been insufficient research into human nature, a study which has the potential to provide better guidelines for organizing society than the ad hoc process in place, which relies on miscellaneous untested opinions and leaves room for the continued exploitation of the system by those in power. Such research could easily produce better systems than those to which we've become accustomed and replace guesswork and arbitrary convention with science.

Even in the case of ostensibly innocuous religious groups there is the potential for internal and external strife when a creed becomes dogma. Utopians like Marilynne Robinson think that they have found a "way," but because their "way" is not universal it will inevitably become a source of contention. Christianity has splintered into countless denominations since the Reformation, and no end is in sight. My position is that people should be allowed to engage in whatever mythologies they choose so long as those mythologies do not become part of the public domain. For the good of the whole, religion has no place in public life at the institutional level. Barack Obama has no business endorsing Marilynne Robinson, because it is a breach in his responsibility as the leader of a secular state.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Prophet

So then he wandered out into the street and began to testify
Something about life being a long journey of the soul
An endless voyaging turning into a voyaging with an end
One knows how but one does not know when
No one yet knows when as the traffic bore down on him

As the traffic bore down on him my mind drifted in the wilderness
Or was it that my mind having been adrift all along
I've just grown to regard the wilderness as my resting or laughing place
He cried but those were not yet his last words
As the traffic parted around him as around one charmed


—Tom Clark

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Uxoriousness

One of the interests I've had over the years, which seems to have turned out to be a basic problem of life, is the nature of good relationships. Of the limited number of people I know, most of whom are not lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, the majority eased into conventional monogamous heterosexual relationships by their early twenties. When I was growing up, it was hard to see inside other families, and my primary example was my parents' relationship. Before my father's decline, my parents got along well and cared about each other, but my father didn't particularly dote on my mother. He used affectionate nicknames for her and sometimes made big English breakfasts on the weekends. It was not until I moved to the Midwest and saw my then-wife's family close up that I became fully exposed to uxorious behavior.

My ex-wife's mother, one of her sisters, and my ex-wife herself all had psychiatric issues. My father-in-law doted on his wife, and they had a good relationship, but from my point of view it was lopsided. All of the psychiatric issues in the family were swept under the rug and never discussed, and my father-in-law worked very hard at home and at his office to provide security and social status for himself and his family. I think he had decided much earlier that if he didn't dote on his wife she might flip out and ruin everything for both of them. Alternatively, he may have felt lucky to have her, since he was never good looking and may have had trouble winning her over when he was courting her. As high school sweethearts from a farming background in rural Ohio, they weren't used to discussing psychiatric problems or even analyzing people. He was a small-town lawyer and also had difficulties when he failed to confront the deficiencies in some of his law partners. My mother-in-law was not above using passive-aggressive techniques to get her way, with others, including her own children, paying the price. As a couple, their system worked for them, but I think that by ignoring mental illness they facilitated its unchecked spread into the next generation. Their children grew up with mixed results, which is common, but half of them now live unacceptably according to the ethos of their parents, which would disturb them if they were still alive.

When some of my friends and acquaintances from college began pairing off, I also saw signs of inequality in relationships, with the wives calling the shots and the husbands kowtowing to them. By this time it was becoming clear to me that complex social factors figure into the power balances within couples. One friend was quite short and always did whatever his wife said. Another friend had a physical deformity and always did whatever his wife said. I found it odd initially, because I'm very independent and don't take orders well, not to mention the fact that in these cases the wives themselves didn't seem to merit deference: I would never have married either of them. Now that they've been married for a long time, their situations can readily be explained in terms of compromises that I probably wouldn't have made.

When I was married, my lack of uxoriousness was a factor in the divorce. Frankly, I hadn't wanted to get married in the first place and was tired of my wife after a few years, though I would not have sought a divorce. My ex-wife didn't think clearly about much of anything, and although she maintained the self-image of a free spirit, at heart she was an unimaginative conformist just like her parents, and thought that if she wasn't doted on by her husband he must be defective. That's all water under the bridge, but it was a waste of eleven years of my life.

These days I don't socialize much, not that I ever did, but I do have some exposure to other couples in my age group. There isn't a significant amount of explicit uxorious behavior here, but there seem to be many of the same structural elements in place among established couples with grown kids. The women usually dominate and the men are subservient in social situations. It is fairly obvious that the wives have trained their husbands how to behave, while stopping short of the blatant control exhibited in the case of extreme uxoriousness. I still don't train well and think that too much socializing might cause some of the wives to provide unwanted advice and put me under pressure to behave in a more woman-centric way.  I'm hoping that that won't happen, because I don't like being pushed around, particularly when the aggressor is biased.

There are real, intractable differences between men and women that inevitably bring tensions to relationships. Most of the men I know have less need for casual socializing than the women I know. They don't usually care much about home decoration, chitchat or backrubs. They are less interested in childrearing than they let on. The women don't usually care about chainsaws, telescopes or radical ideas, and they dislike physical risks. None of this is going to change, so you have to make some compromises unless you want to live alone. Unsurprisingly, many of the men who have made important contributions to civilization have been recluses, hell to live with or gay. Compromise comes at a cost.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Jilted

How quickly the landscape fills
with figures, with code, with the palpable
unspoken, where once trees,
for example, bore in each leaf
only a little slow factory
making work for itself tomorrow,
one day ahead of itself like trust.
Bent to themselves like that,
how could they serve to show
if you will come or not, or be late
merely, or disappear?
                                          Now that trees
stand for something I can't
understand, and so must be figures
for articulate loss, they seem
as tragic as we are, emblems
rather than habits. If again this time
you don't come, perhaps it will be
because you are already
allegorical, and I will turn here
like a weathervane, a rooster
soldered to his useless work.


 —William Matthews

Monday, January 5, 2015

Thinks...

Not long ago I was involved in an Internet discussion about neuroscience and the humanities in which I mentioned that I don't find that contemporary literary fiction is scientifically informed. A commenter then recommended Thinks..., the 2001 novel by David Lodge, as an example of literary fiction that engages scientific findings. I had previously read Small World, also by Lodge, and thought it mildly entertaining, so I followed the advice. Unfortunately, Thinks... was a waste of time for me. Normally I wouldn't make an effort to write about a novel that I don't like, but in this case I'll make an exception because the broader topic is the gulf between the humanities and the sciences, which this novel was supposed to remedy.

The story is about a woman writer, Helen Reed, whose husband has died recently and who is teaching a creative writing class at a fictional university in England. She meets and is attracted to Ralph Messenger, the head of the cognitive science department, where research is conducted on consciousness and AI. Throughout the novel there is mention of the broader questions of cognitive science, though none are delved into deeply. The narrative jumps around between Ralph's dictation to himself, Helen's diary and an omniscient narrator. Samples of the creative writing students' writing are also thrown in.

I did not find the discussion of cognitive science illuminating and thought that the novel was mainly about sex. The charismatic Ralph is an incurable philanderer, and the main thread of the book is his pursuit of Helen and their brief, shallow and unsatisfactory relationship. While this is going on he is temporarily involved in two separate affairs. Furthermore, Helen is shocked to discover that one of the students in her class has had an affair with her husband, and that her husband had several such affairs, which is all news to her. To round things off, it turns out that Ralph's wife, Carrie, is also having an affair, and one of Ralph's chief researchers is a pedophile who has been downloading pornography onto his computer at work. Finally Ralph and Helen break up, and she returns to her home in London when the term ends.

Obviously I was expecting a lot more than this. It is really just a titillating novel about the dishonest and debauched lives of upper-middle-class academics. If there is any subtext to it, it is that Helen, whose family background is Catholic, stands on higher ground than Ralph, who, consistent with his scientific outlook, feels free to chart his own moral course and ignore religious and moral conventions whenever it suits him. If there is any lesson it is that Helen's relatively greater moral rectitude made her a victim of Ralph and her husband, who both operated on lower moral planes than she did. There is no explicit statement of it, but one may presume that Lodge is rooting for traditionalists like Helen and critical of the amorality of most of the others in the story. One might say that he implicitly favors humanism over scientism.

This, of course, does nothing to assuage my ongoing disappointment with literary fiction and the escapism and artificiality associated with it. Although I don't know any cognitive scientists, it is difficult not to think that Lodge has made a caricature out of Ralph Messenger in order to meet the objectives of his novel. If anything, Helen Reed is a stand-in for Lodge and represents his point of view as a novelist and an English professor. I come away from this book feeling that Lodge is a bit of a literary huckster with little genuine interest in clarifying, let alone solving, the deep split in academia between the humanities and the sciences. Lodge's scope is so narrow and his prejudices are so obvious that I probably won't be reading any more of his novels.