EXistence (FICTION) (French Edition)
Even those unschooled in philosophy like myself will delight in her refreshing prose: But the great monotheistic religions all declare that 'mercy' is one of God's essential traits. A merciful God would surely have some understanding of why a person may not believe in him if the evidence for God were obvious, the fancy reasoning of Pascal's Wager would not be necessary , and so would extend compassion to a non-believer. Bertrand Russell, when asked what he would have to say to God, if, despite his reasoned atheism, he were to die and face his Creator, responded, 'Oh Lord, why did you not provide more evidence?
However, these arguments are a succession of shifting perspectives. Earnest, self-effacing Cass is now a celebrity. The book has risen to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. His fame is the conduit to a highly improbable relationship with Lucinda Mandelbaum, a colleague at the opposite end of both the personality and scholarly spectrums. Admirers have dubbed her the Goddess of Game Theory; readers will find the appellation of The Fanger, bestowed for her ferocious debating style, a more eloquent fit.
Cass has a history of improbable experiences. His first wife, Pascale, was a neurotic, emotionally volatile, self-absorbed French poet. The reader's own opinion is soon validated by the snarky appraisal of Cass' sympathetic colleague Mona, after Pascale divorces Cass. Like the dappling effects of sunlight, ironies and shifting perspectives nicitate in this book. When a fellow graduate student, Gideon Raven, mentions the View from Nowhere, Cass mistakes his reference to the nondescript bar and student hangout for a book authored by the philosopher Thomas Nagel.
At a lecture on moral choice, Lucinda Mandelbaum argues that the Milgram experiment is an example of escalation game theory. Gideon exemplifies that same escalation game in action. He has spent 12 years and counting as a graduate student and acolyte of famed professor Jonas Elijah Klapper. Gideon advises Cass to cut his losses and go back to his pre-med major. Gideon admits that he is doubling down on the receding goal of a doctorate because he doesn't want to write off the years he has already invested. Serious symbolism and comic reality collide in Goldstein's description of the Hassidic ritual of shirayim , a ritual meant to connect the mystical powers of the Rebbe to his people through the sharing of food.
Hasidim had flung themselves onto the gigantic table, squirming forward on their bellies to get a piece of fruit that hadn't made it into the tiers. There had also been pieces of potato kugel that the Rebbe had distributed with his bare hands. The pandemonium of the event — there was shouting and tussling, not to speak of food being flung — had ripped Cass entirely out of the rapture that had seized him while Azarya spoke.
Cass' hero-worship is balanced by Roz Margolis' irreverent ridicule. Roz is a free-wheeling anthropology student. After a madcap roadtrip with Roz as chauffeur, the character of Azaria, the 6 year old son of the Rebbe is instroduced. Azaria is a math genius, innocently enchanted with the mysteries of prime numbers, the occasion for Goldstein to launch into yet another tangent. Despite the array of memorable characters and engaging prose, this book never coalesced into a satisfying novel for me.
The material was superfluous, as if the author was grasping for material to fill a requisite 36 vessels. Deprived of its philosophical twin the fictional narrative would proceed with a diminished resonance. However, the arbitrary chapters that jump backwards and forwards in time contributed to a choppiness in the narrative. Goldstein unleashes too many variables into her story. The result is a chaotic narrative which feels overly long. This was one of my forays outside of my comfort zone. While appealing to a wide spectrum of interests, Goldstein also runs the risk of leaving many in that spectrum, myself included, dissatisfied.
View all 4 comments. Aug 04, Jackmccullough rated it it was ok. This novel stands for the proposition that someone who is very smart, and may have very good and clear philosophical ideas, may yet be unable to write good, believable fiction. The novel centers on Cass Seltzer, a professor of the psychology of religion who has become famous for writing a best-selling book about religious belief, and his relationships with his academic mentor, his girlfriend, who is also a professor, his university Brandeis, thinly disguised as "Frankfurter University" , and the This novel stands for the proposition that someone who is very smart, and may have very good and clear philosophical ideas, may yet be unable to write good, believable fiction.
The novel centers on Cass Seltzer, a professor of the psychology of religion who has become famous for writing a best-selling book about religious belief, and his relationships with his academic mentor, his girlfriend, who is also a professor, his university Brandeis, thinly disguised as "Frankfurter University" , and the Hasidic community his mother abandoned as a young woman. I freely concede that the author has more inside knowledge of the politics and inner workings of academia, and I have no problem believing the ego and political conflicts present there.
What I do have trouble believing is that anyone would take serious Jonas Elijah Klapper, the inflated gasbag Seltzer chooses to be his mentor. Cass Seltzer, the main character, is well drawn and generally believable. The difficulty I had with him, though, is that until the climactic debate on the question Resolved: God Exists, his life choices and credulity give no hint of the intelligence he displays in the debate. He's supposed to be smart, but it's not good enough for the author to tell us: The other characters are weak, almost to the point of being props.
There are definite scenes of academic humor, and the god debate is pretty well done, but if Goldstein intended this as a novel of ideas, in which the questions of faith and doubt, religion and disbelief are played out in an engaging and believable way, I'm afraid she's missed the mark. Jun 20, Gerald Camp rated it it was amazing. Here are a few things I learned from this book. PhDs only associate with other PhDs or a child genius that certainly would have been a PhD by the end of the book if he hadn't decided instead to accept his obligatory heritage to become head Rabbi of a Hassidic sect.
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PhDs do not say "I love you" without first computing the probability that to do so will result in a bliss, or b hell. If you write this year's best selling book on athiesm you may get offered a professorship at Harvard. But Here are a few things I learned from this book. But beware, it may cost you the girl if she is smarter than you. Being a professor at Harvard is probably better than being a professor at Frankfurter University.
Especially if getting over losing the girl takes only 72 hours! The argument from human suffering is the only argument for the non-existence of God that is necessary to refute all 36 arguments for the existence of God. Reading about characters who only talk PhD to each other can be great fun. Feb 08, Molly rated it did not like it Shelves: I hated this book so much I cannot compose a coherent review.
It is both tedious and wildly annoying. It made me hate academia. None of the characters were remotely believable and most were unlikeable as well. No thank you to this book. Jan 12, Lena rated it liked it. Rebecca Goldstein's new novel takes a look at some of the issues raised by the new atheist movement through the lens of fiction.
Cass Seltzer is a psychology of religion professor at an obscure college who has been thrust into the spotlight by the sudden success of his book, The Varieties of Religious Illusion. Both Seltzer's fictional book and this novel contain an appendix, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God. The appendix is not actually an argument in support of god, but rather details the Rebecca Goldstein's new novel takes a look at some of the issues raised by the new atheist movement through the lens of fiction.
The appendix is not actually an argument in support of god, but rather details the most common arguments believers lean on to justify their faith alongside logical refutations of each those arguments. But though his refutation of believers' arguments is ruthless, Seltzer is that rare atheist who is still capable of understanding the mystical, euphoric side of religion, a capacity that has gotten him labeled by the media as "the atheist with a soul.
The resultant fame has provided him not only with wealth, but also a teaching offer from Harvard and the attentions of a beautiful and brilliant game theorist. The story then goes back in time to trace Seltzer's journey from the beginning. He was a medical student when he fell under the sway of a charismatic professor teaching something called "Faith, Literature and Values. Throughout the telling of this tale, Goldstein alternates back and forth between Seltzer's modern day life and flashbacks of the experiences that led him to it.
The journey he takes is a thoughtful and interesting one, and Goldstein portrays it in beautiful prose.
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But although I was immediately captivated by the start of this novel, I didn't find it as fundamentally satisfying as its premise had led me to hope I might. I suspect in large part this has to do with Goldstein's choice to make her points by contrasting the worlds of insular Hassidic Judaism and elite academia.
These are worlds that are primarily foreign to me, and so extreme in their perspectives that I didn't feel I learned much that was new from her portrayal of them. Still, I did enjoy aspects of this book, particularly the debate at the end between Seltzer and a noted Christian. I also found that the series of arguments for faith collected in the appendix was presented in such a way as to help me see some patterns in those arguments I hadn't noticed before.
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So I do think it's worth reading, but I think I would have ultimately found it more satisfying if it had addressed the issue less from the extremes and more from the middle. View all 20 comments. May 13, Carlo rated it it was ok Shelves: Hearing about this book being praised for having a unique ability to explore the religious belief "from the inside", and realizing that it was actually the explicit aim of its author, I really can't help but giving it a low rating.
I believe it fails as regards its central premise, and apart from that it had a boring story that didn't at all provide me with an enjoyable experience while reading the book. Apart from the fiction part of the book, there is an appendix that actually examines 36 seri Hearing about this book being praised for having a unique ability to explore the religious belief "from the inside", and realizing that it was actually the explicit aim of its author, I really can't help but giving it a low rating.
Apart from the fiction part of the book, there is an appendix that actually examines 36 serious arguments for the existence of God and refutes them beautifully one by one. The most ironic thing about this book is that one of the characters foreshadows that the appendix is much more interesting that the book itself. I would have easily rated the book 4 stars if there was nothing but the appendix. It was honest and showed the limitations of reason and the low probability of the existence of some deistic entity though not at all a God who gave us the Bible or its likes.
Also, the conclusion of the story is damnable and very passive. Apart from the fact that it lacks focus, it was as if the author is encouraging us to fully accept the reality of religions and religious beliefs without the least compromise. I believe that is a luxury we can no longer afford given the realities of the world. No doubt Goldstein is a very intelligent person and one I would be delighted to discuss many questions with.
List of fictional books
She explores some very interesting questions sideways, like immortality, suffering, mathematics, but the whole is so lacking and trite that I didn't find anything new that hasn't been discussed many times over in much more engaging books by notable authors who Goldstein though not criticizing them seems to not be satisfied with. There is an actual debate in this book a la Hitch vs.
Dinesh D'Souza that surprised me with its cliched arguments for the existence of God, where the main character demolishes the religious side. I was really surprised at one point to see the religious actually defending the Judeo-Christian morality. I believe there are lots of arguments for the existence of a deity made by people who are near-Deists which though I don't agree with are certainly more engaging and fun to think about and grapple with. Sep 16, Mazola1 rated it liked it.
For all those who think you can't tell a book by its cover, I offer 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction as Exhibit 1 against the proposition.
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Clearly, the title says it all -- logical arguments proving the existence of God are numerous, but are all works of fiction. Tackling that topic is a tall order to fill, and Goldstein gives it a good,although not entirely successful try. Her book is witty, erudite, and clever. It is also at times tedious and a bit too clever. And it dr For all those who think you can't tell a book by its cover, I offer 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: And it drags seriously, and could certainly have benefitted from a good trimming by a ruthless editor.
I will confess that this book left me with mixed emotions. Goldstein almost flaunts her intellectualism, dropping the names of philosophers like a social climber might drop the names of celebrities at a cocktail party. Not a few of these references come across as inside jokes fully comprehensible only to professional philosophers or academics.
Still, the book is quite enjoyable to read simply because it is at once the antithesis of mindless entertainment while still for the most part being entertaining and funny, something of a rarity in serious fiction. But somehow, I was never quite able to shake the feeling that the book was one big inside and perverse joke -- an intellectual poking fun at pointy headed intellectuals. It's true that Goldstein's characters are more stereotypes than people, but for this type of work, that probably works. Through their interactions and verbal jousting, Goldstein is able to examine belief and non-belief in contemporary society.
Her book is written in counterparts -- 36 chapters in the real world, together with an appendix stating 36 arguments for the existence of God with refutations purportedly written by the atheistic protagonist. Some of the arguments are historical and real, while others appear to be spoofs, and the refutations often seem as fatuous as the arguments. The message I gleaned was that the real proof of the existence or non-existence of God is found not in academic arguments but in the nuts and bolts of everyday life, and that emotional truth is more satisfying than scientific truth.
Probably the joke is on every reader who takes this book too seriously. Feb 26, Lynn rated it it was ok. These could stand alone and make a great 5 star book; so I'm glad I finished the book, otherwise I would have missed some great writing. The best parts of the book were not part of the novel. This goes to show that great writers of non-fiction can be terrible writers of fiction.
The main character, like almost all the others, seemed vapid. If you are a hostile progressive, you might enjoy the stereotyped characterizations of neoconservatives, but you have to wade through a lot of self-indulgent and tiresome writing to get to these parts, and most of it is in the debate chapter anyway.
Check this out from the library. I could be wrong, and fiction lovers may enjoy it. Fiction seems to require a special talent that doesn't have to be part of good non-fiction. Jan 18, Susan rated it it was amazing Recommended to Susan by: How can I resist any book that includes the following sentence in its first page: It would be easy to pick this book apart.
In the end, these points didn't matter. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It completely engaged me from beginning to end, both intellectually and emotionally. At times, I laughed out loud, the characters were very real and recognizable to me and one of the characters genuinely touched me. Loved the characters and the takes on academia, fame, intellectualism, self-scrutiny, Judaism and the ambivalence which Jews feel about it - all things which I care a lot about. This book reminds me why I so adore Mazel and The Mind Body Problem and confirms to me that Rebecca Goldstein writes from a place and world view that I feel very close to.
I feel like her pretensions and preoccupations are mine as well. I am curious what anyone who doesn't know much about Judaism makes of this book. I would love to discuss this book with people from diverse backgrounds. Aug 18, Brian Bohmueller rated it really liked it. Nontheists will revel in this book's assertive position of godless living. As the title implies there is an u 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: As the title implies there is an underlying plotline that seeks to aver a rational point of view toward the often silly pursuits of religionsists.
However, I was most impressed with Goldberg's depth in creating Cass's three primary romantic partners. Each resonates with a different chord at a different time in his life. Also his friendship with a precocious, Hasidic protege, Azarya is quite moving. Each of these relationships swells with emotional and intellectual grit and is the primary lifeblood of the novel. If there is one weakness that the novel suffers, it is overly academic wordiness. Sometimes the rhetoric becomes more than a bit tangled in the stuffiness of oblique references and deluge of multisyllabicism.
Professor Klapper, Cass's PhD sponsor, is at the heart of much of this high-brow gibberish, and serves as a foil for Cass's more straightforward thinking, and is worth waddling through, given Cass's eventual rise beyond uber-intellectual and uber-metaphorical spiritualism. The appendix of this novel actually details 36 arguments for the existence of God with commentary on their history and flaws. At first, I had thought the novel itself would more closely include the arguments in the novel.
Instead, the novel weaves an intricate world in an academic setting alongside insightful discussion of various forms of rational and irrational thought. There is no point in writing my review, as Mike has already thoroughly and beautifully covered every point I might wish to make. His criticisms are well-justified and true, and his wrestling with the issues presented are synonymous with my own.
This is a philosophy text disguised as fiction, and yet the characters do not quite perfectly transport the theme as the author intended, but it is an admirable attempt at a formidable ideal. After a long preamble of establishing its context, the book end There is no point in writing my review, as Mike has already thoroughly and beautifully covered every point I might wish to make.
After a long preamble of establishing its context, the book ends on a crescendo of proof that makes a good case for atheism, but also a good case for lack of faith in any human relationship, as well, and leaves the reader feeling a bit untethered. Or so I gather. There's a lot of food for thought here, but, like any discussion on the existence of God or the purpose of faith, ends with more questions than answers.
Jan 13, Jason Pettus rated it it was amazing Shelves: Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally. As I've mentioned here many times before, it's always a dicey proposition anymore when a modern author chooses to set a novel within an academic environment: Thankfully, though, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein's new novel, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God , falls firmly in that former Chabon camp; and since this tends to be a rare occurrence, I thought I would use it as an excuse today to do a little analyzing as well as critiquing, to examine why in my opinion this book succeeds so wildly when so many other academic novels fail so badly.
But first, to be fair, let's acknowledge the natural strengths of academic fiction, the reason its fans like it in the first place, which can basically be boiled down to two main points: And 36 Arguments succeeds wildly at both of these things, essentially the story of an obscure east-coast academe whose specialty combining the study of psychology and religion usually gets poo-pooed by his more focused peers in both departments, until one day he writes a non-insulting guide to the "New Atheism" that accidentally becomes a runaway bestseller, and turns him into a famed pop-culture figure along the lines of Malcolm Gladwell or Richard Dawkins.
Why, he even gets to go on The Daily Show , an event that causes no end of jealousy among his peers. As you can already see, this is one of the first big ways that Goldstein sets herself apart from so many other academic authors: Like Chabon's novel, then, this gives Goldstein an excuse to introduce a whole series of engaging, unique characters, ones who literally make the book a little brighter merely becuase of their interesting backgrounds: The second big thing Goldstein does right, then, is to mix all these elements up, presenting a story out of narrative order yet with a "present day" thread of events holding things together -- and I should mention that on top of everything just mentioned, Goldstein stirs into this present-day mix a coming sold-out debate on the campus of Harvard with a Buckley-type neocon over the issue of whether God actually exists; a child math prodigy who happens to also be a sheltered Kabbalah Jew, being groomed against his will to be the island-dwelling community's next rebbe; a nervy and unhappy husband who's been a graduate student under Klapper for literally fifteen years, and who introduces Cass to the pleasures of drinking at dive bars with undergraduates; and a whole lot more, keeping us always on our toes even though ultimately not a whole lot actually "happens" over the course of this brainy, dialogue-heavy novel.
36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction
Now combine this with Goldstein's superlative prose style, which manages to bridge the highbrow and lowbrow to a remarkably successful degree; and then add the bigger issues that are ultimately being discussed through this storyline the purpose of academia, the nature of genius, actual science versus blind faith in science [what Klapper deems "scientism"], and yes, the existence of God , and you have yourself a densely intellectual yet quickly moving book, the exact definition of a perfect airport pick for well-read nerds.
In fact, about the only real criticism I have of 36 Arguments is at its very end, when Goldstein an academic philosopher in real life, who is precisely known for using witty novels to explain philosophical issues goes just a little too far, penning not only a page literal transcript of an academic debate as the novel's finale, but a page appendix afterwards that is literally a stand-alone philosophical treatise, the actual "36 Arguments" of the book's title along with Cass's supposed logical arguments against them all, which is so academically dense that I literally couldn't get past the second page.
Like I said, though, these are the very last two elements of the book, and can be easily skipped by those like me with not much of an interest in the actual academic theories behind this book's plot; and in the meanwhile, with the other pages Goldstein exactly succeeds at what she set out to do, humanizing these issues into a funny, charming, yet always intellectually stimulating story about relationships, religion and family.
It makes me wish that all academic fiction would be this good, and makes me want to go buy a bunch of copies and slap them into the hands of every working lit professor I know. It comes highly recommended today for that crowd, and will be a keeper among a lot of the rest of you as well. Sep 08, Msmurphybylaw rated it it was ok Shelves: This book is written in two halves, as is my review: A fantasy of mine is that instead of going back to school for a second degree in advertising, I would have returned and continued my art degree and received my MFA and become a professor.
In this dream, I've painted a perfect postmodern portrait of myself as a feminist art prof spinning pots while Parrish cherub nymphs swirl about me gaily in my academic ivory tower. Butterflies and bees hand me tools as students rap at the tower door below. My This book is written in two halves, as is my review: My office hours are posted, but they know that I'm no stickler for those.
He has faculty members kissing his hairy buttocks. Thwarting this ghastly vision, I jerk only to hone in on another naked fellow preening about. Lifting my gaze, I find the entire campus is teaming with featherless peacocks engaging fully clothed entourages.
Anxiety floods my system. Simultaneously my hands and eyes feel my breasts. There are no clothes. My fantasy has been shattered by ego. My there sure are a lot of naked emperors trotting around Frankfurter U. Well to be fair, huge numbers swarm and strut on most campuses across our beautiful little marble and it's not quarantined to the upper east coast of North America I'm afraid. I was a little timid about reading a book for academia, about academia, by an academian with theological implications and enlightenment thrown in for good measure, but it came highly recommended from a good book friend.
Who, now that I think of it, works for the University of Texas; maybe I was sabotaged. At any rate, this book was a vapidly tiresome read for me. Intelligent people can be very boring. All of the main character's worked for the university as professors or board members. The protagonist was the biggest rebel, ooh my! Because he stuck to his guns in the theological department of psychology. And he was rewarded aptly for being dumped by his tiny assed wife and given a new and improved smarter girlfriend who dumps him as well.
There was a boy genius that pops in as well, but he was kind of an afterthought. As I wound through the story, yes I skipped lots-o-pages when there was human interaction, I couldn't help keeping the porcupine joke out of my head. How do porcupines make love? They do it very carefully. And tediously, and quietly and it goes on forever and not much gets accomplished I would gather, much like this book.
Part 2 The actual Argument My middle child used to rent an apartment next door to this weirdly hip yet dirty cool creepy coffee shop in Austin where conspiracy theorists mingle with university students and photographers. It is next door to an AA hive, a groovy resale store and a new age art shop.
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