Monday, January 30, 2012


Charles Darwin Day (Feb 13) is upon us again.  I have a previous post regarding Charles Darwin, and I have little to add to that commentary today..
In this country some (actually quite a few) citizens, including a few congressmen, have religious belief in divine creation, or intelligent design as it is sometimes called, (their belief is fine with me), and they would like to see creationism taught as legitimate science in our public schools (this is not so fine with me.)
In contrast, I was recently in London and visited the British Museum of Natural History, which is essentially a monument to Darwin.  It even has a full-sized statue of the man in a prominent position of the main hall.  The quintessential homage a country can give to a citizen however is to place his/her image on their money so that it is seen by millions every day, and that is what England did with their 10 Pound Sterling banknote (and this is fine with me.)

Darwin, seen on the stair landing at the far back of the hall, 
oversees the collections of the British Museum of Natural History (click to enlarge.)

Charles Darwin

Lost in thought?

Darwin on the Ten Pound Note

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Julian Barnes: Non-Linear Novelist

Flaubert's Parrot was my fortuitous introduction to the novels of Julian Barnes.  It's unconventional structure as narrative/fictional biography with multiple voices and non-linear chronology somehow held together to illuminate Flaubert's philosophy as it relates to the protagonist's inward struggles.

Oxford educated Julian Barnes was raised by academic parents (French Professors) and his brother, Jonathan, is a widely respected academic in ancient philosophies, so the introspective nature of Julian's prime characters follows in a natural, almost family sense.

Critics are generally effusive, and his novels have garnered big-time awards, but some might wince at the occasional vivid inclusion of some of the baser human language, thoughts, and acts which Barnes occasionally presents seamlessly, if bluntly, and more in some books than others.  ("Filth" and "disgusting" have been used in some of the individual Amazon reviews of his books.)  Women in his novels are mostly present as a foil for the male character, and while these women are complex and challenging, they are not often treated with great sympathy (but then neither is the central character).

Two of his more recent novels (Nothing to be Frightened of, and The Sense of an Ending) deal with a protagonist that is aging and unavoidably ponders the changing nature of life, and reflecting on how he (Julian himself?) came to be what he is.  This might seem to be morbid, but comes across, at least to myself, as a process that we all tend to endure as our past life becomes longer than our future life.   Julian and I are roughly the same age, so it is natural that I find some comradeship when he writes of being old, and how your thinking changes; "It strikes me that this may be one of the differences between youth and age: when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different past for others."

Nothing to be Frightened of is not really about dying, nor is The Sense of an Ending about death, but I do think you need to be approaching or past Medicare age, as am I, to really appreciate either.