Monday, May 24, 2010
Dan Green Reviews Rebecca Goldstein
Occsasional Valve contributor Dan Green reviews Rebecca Goldstein’s 36 Arguments for the Existence of God at The Reading Experience:
In novels such as The Mind-Body Problem (1989), Mazel (1995), and Properties of Light (2000), Goldstein takes as her subject characters working in the “hard” disciplines who struggle to reconcile their commitment to the intellectual rigor of these disciplines with their physical and emotional impulses that tempt them away from that commitment, in some cases toward the suspension of reason and rigor represented by religion and religious tradition. 36 Arguments continues the preoccupation with this subject but does so in the form of a conventional academic satire, a mode the earlier novels, for all their focus on academics and their eccentricites, did not really approach. These novels (as well as the short story collection, Strange Attractors) seemed to manifest an effort to satisfy both the demands of philosophy and of literary form (perhaps analagous to their protagonists’ efforts to reconcile head and heart). Properties of Light, for example, finds a provocative way to use science to create a ghost story of sorts, as one of its characters comes back to quantumly “haunt” the woman responsible for his death.
36 Arguments for the Existence of God, however, doesn’t really exhibit the same concern for transforming philosophy and science into literary devices. Granted, the “36 arguments” construct is used as a structural element, incorporated literally in the form of a series of propositions and their refutations as the novel’s concluding section and metaphorically by providing the novel’s chapter titles, but otherwise this novel presents few surprises either formally or thematically, proceeding as a garden-variety academic satire complete with bursting egos, pretentious-sounding projects, and fierce political in-fighting. It provides Goldstein with the opportunity to portray the current phenomenon of “new atheism,” but its appeal is largely restricted to the examination of this phenomenon as a “current issuue.” While some marginal interest might be added by dramatizing this phenomenon through attributing positions to fictionally depicted characters, finally not much about the controversy over new atheism is really illuminated by dressing it up as fiction rather than addressing it more straightforwardly through analysis and explication.
The most serious limitation of 36 Arguments, however, is that as satire it isn’t very funny. (read the whole review here)
FWIW, I didn’t find it very funny either.