Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pleased to meet Fulton J. Sheen

Janel Rodriguez has done Catholics under the age of 50 a huge favor with her biography Meet Fulton Sheen. She relies on Sheen's autobiography Treasure in Clay as the source for most of her work. Very readable and enjoyable, Rodriguez's book follows Sheen's life and development as both a canny media personality and, more importantly, as an extremely devout bishop who in some ways is a precursor to Pope John Paul II's communicative and telegenic piety. Rodriguez's prose is unobtrusive; she never gets in the way of what proves to be a fascinating story filled with colorful incident. If you are unfamiliar with Bishop Sheen, do yourself a favor and get this book.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

My Scrofulous French novel

Michel Houellebecq's The Elementary Particles is a French novel which features two burned out victims of sexual liberation in the 60's: Bruno, who suffers through a humilating youth mired in excrement and spends his life eternally pursuing his next orgasm through degrading sexual acts, and Michel, the detached scientist who has difficulty maintaining normal human contact or expressing any tenderness or love and who can only find some semblance of fulfillment in the elevated life of the mind. The main difficulty is that it's a bit repetitive and not as amusing as it would like to be. Although the vast bulk of the novel could be taken as a social conservative manifesto, the conclusion of the novel, involving a technological redemption of human nature, is difficult to know how to read. Is it a brief for transhumanism out of burned out Dionysian hippie excess, or is the resolution intended ironically? Most importantly, why should I care? If it's ironic, it's neither funny nor perceptive enough to retain my interest. The only motivation to read through to the end is to find out the promised resolution/breakthrough in both the plot and Michel's scientific endeavors. When it turns out to hinge on warmed over ideas from Ray Kurzweil, Julian Huxley, and Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End, I'm left cold.

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