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Francesca Murphy

I am reading The Blondelian Synthesis: A Study of the Influence of German Philosophical Sources on the Formation of Blondel's Method and Thought by John McNeil. It's a really fine, detailed scholarly study of the influence of Spinoza, Kant, Schelling and Hegel on Blondel. I was enjoying it so much I googled John McNeil to find out if he wrote anything else! It turned out he had died ten days before and he was a gay rights campaigner. In addition to Blondelian Synthesis McNeil created a really useful online Blondel archive and wrote a certain amount of BS about the lack of personalistic, phenomenology in the teaching of John Paul II. But Blondelian Synthesis is the kind of book I could read forever, with a huge cup of tea, and I hope to discuss it over tea and a slice of eternity with the author.

Matthew Schmitz

What happens when a graduate of the Iowa Workshop attends an exorcism camp? The answer offered by Jennifer Percy’s Demon Camp is: not much, though fantastical utterances—by the would-be exorcists and would-be writers—abound. Percy’s guide is Caleb Daniels, a veteran of the War in Afghanistan who believes that he is haunted by a Frank-Perettiesque creature named Destroyer (others would call the beast PTSD). Daniels finds some freedom from this monster after a Pentecostal preacher in the aptly named Portal, Georgia takes him through the process of “deliverance.” Percy decides to follow her subject through the exorcism process, not because she is possessed but (presumably) because she is in need of good copy. The experience fails to deliver even that, though, and so Percy’s similes are left vainly lunging for meaning. This is a book in which Americans fail to conjure.

Bianca Czaderna

You know that feeling you get when you hear something or read a book that swiftly synthesizes seemingly unrelated thoughts that have been jostling about in your head for a long time? That’s what happened to me when I read Robert P. Imbelli’s Rekindling the Christic Imagination. Small and unassuming, yes, but chock-full of wisdom and good sense, while also bearing an undeniable freshness.

Imbelli, who is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York and associate professor emeritus of systematic theology at Boston College, experienced firsthand the charged atmosphere surrounding the Second Vatican Council, and it is his vision of the successes and failures of the council that drives his thought here. He first gives the successes their due—“ressourcement,” the rediscovery of the wealth of Scripture, and “aggiornamento,” making the Good News of the Gospel resonate with the contemporary world. The goal of the council, Imbelli writes, “was able to hold these two movements of rediscovery and renewal in creative tension, channeling the centrifugal forces that could pull them apart.” But now for the point of weakness—that creative tension is wavering, and the reason for that, he suggests, is an “eclipse of the enlivening and unifying center of the faith.” He stresses Dei Verbum as a neglected guidepost for the way forward: “Dei Verbum confesses that “Jesus completes the work of revelation…above all by his death and his glorious resurrection from the dead, and his sending of the Spirit of Truth.” And, let it be known, this in no way lessens the Trinitarian content of the faith, nor does it entail “Christomonism,” a supposed exclusive emphasis on Christ.

So the aim of this book is to mediate precisely upon this “Christic Center” of Catholic faith as it expands from the center into the intertwined realities of Eucharist, church, and Trinity. And it does so more meditatively than discursively—offering a “mystagogical” meditation that evokes the mystery that it points towards, intertwining theology and aesthetics, a la von Balthasar. Also in the Balthasarian vein is its seeking to become a “praying theology.”

There's a lot more to be said—and hopefully I will say more—but this is the thesis of the book.

Alexi Sargeant

I picked up Numbers in the Dark: And Other Stories at secondhand bookstore. I've been enjoying these odds and ends of Italo Calvino's short fiction. While many of Calvino's well-known novels experiment with the anthology form (If On a Winter's Night a Traveler, Invisible Cities) this collection is a genuine miscellany of Calvino's stories—some that appeared in his life in newspapers and magazines, some previously unpublished. It opens with a series of very short pieces, culled from his juvenilia, that skewer and satirize Italian Fascism, like the mob mentality fable “The Man Who Shouted Teresa.” The preface, by Calvino's widow Esther, quotes Calvino saying, “one writes fables in periods of oppression.” While the later stories get longer, many retain the fabulist's anti-authoritarian sensibilities, such as in “The Lost Regiment” where a military parade becomes embarrassed to intrude on the ordinary life of a city, and so tries to march so quietly and inconspicuously that it disperses into individual soldiers, scattered and hiding in alleyways. 

At other points, Calvino's phantasmagorical eye lands on computing (“Numbers in the Dark” reveals that an ancient mistake in arithmetic has made every one of corporation's calculations wrong—the original mathematical sin bearing grosser fruit every generation) or media addiction (“The Last Channel” is the confession of a madman who wields a television remote against the world, constantly clicking in an attempt to tune into the world where everything has gone right). If I had to extract a theme from the collection, it might be a bemused sense of the futility of utopianism, whether political or technological. But with Calvino, it's always hard to predict what each story will bring. “Nocturnal Soliloquy of a Scottish Nobleman” has, surprisingly, nothing to do with Macbeth, while “Implosion” turns out to be an existential monologue from a star considering collapsing into a black hole. “To explode or to implode...that is the question.”

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