- There is a novel out that is quite remarkable in some ways. The book is by Dave Eggers, and the title is A Hologram for the King. The story illustrates the absolute insanity,unreality, incoherence and lostness of our global modern society. Normally I would not have noticed this novel, but a book review by Chris Hedges (my favorite social commentator) drew my attention. Actually for many of us the novel may not be needed for we already sensed the reality it addresses, but the book review is worth a read to say the least, and here is the link to it:
Here is an interesting quote from the review:
The book works because of its authenticity, its close attention to detail and Eggers’ respect for fact. I spent many months as a correspondent in Saudi Arabia where the novel is set. Eggers captures in tight, bullet-like prose the utter decadence, hypocrisy and corruption of the kingdom, as well as its bleak landscape, suffocating heat and soulless glass and concrete office buildings. He is keenly aware that the outward religiosity and piety mask a moral and physical rot that fits seamlessly into the world of globalized capitalism.
Hedges implies but does not elaborate the deep irony of this picture. True the novel is set in Saudi Arabia where an American technocrat/businessman is trying to make a deal, but the story is really about us and our culture. What is interesting is that the veneer of both places is one of “religiosity” and righteousness. Saudi Arabia is well-known for a kind of fundamentalist Islam and incidentally for a deep and long-standing hostility to the Islamic mysticism of the Sufis. Behind the religious veneer Eggers unveils a truly horrid reality that has nothing to do with true Islam. Here, of course, our leaders drape themselves more or less in simplistic Christian rhetoric and everyone pretends that we are a “Christian country.” But behind this veneer there is not a trace of real Christianity but bloodlust, greed, and the hunger for power and wealth. In a strange kind of way both countries and cultures, so different in their cultural languages and so-called theologies are similarly “rotten at the core.” We do have a problem!
- Speaking of the Sufis, I have been reading this Japanese scholar who is simply incredible in his presentation of Ibn ‘Arabi, the great Sufi master from the Middle Ages. His name is Toshihiko Izutsu. I do not know what his own religious affiliation was but he is a master of Arabic and Islamic sources. He did the first translation of the Qur’an from Arabic into Japanese decades ago and even today it is considered an accurate and superior translation. He has taught at McGill University in Montreal and for many years he was in Tehran at the Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy. He finished his days back in his own country of Japan at Keio University in Tokyo. He died in 1993.
What makes him especially interesting, besides his deep knowledge and respect for Islamic mysticism, is that he combines this with an extensive knowledge and interest in early Taoism and Zen. He has written scholarly works in both of these areas also. He illustrates how comparative religion and comparative mysticism should be done because he is also very obviously a person of deep experience of the Mystery that all this tries to articulate.
Ibn Arabi, what can you say! One of the truly great masters of Islamic mysticism and a giant among all religious thinkers in all religious traditions. What little I have been able to read of him in English has been very illuminating and uplifting, but I grant he is not everyone’s “cup of tea.” Already as a youngster in Islamic Spain he was gifted with deep mystical knowledge, and as he became an adult he became a prominent philosopher-theologian. Definitely his work is not of the “bhakti type”—and Sufism has both in abundance. His development and elaboration of Sufi mysticism is unequaled, but it might not be what everyone wants to read! Nevertheless, hopefully one day we will reflect on Ibn’Arabi and on his insights some more in this blog.