Showing posts from August, 2018

Black Elk, wholly Lakota, wholly Catholic? undoubtedly holy!

'Black Elk Speaks' has become a classic of Native American spirituality, deeply valued from within the Lakota community of which Black Elk was a revered member, noted for his simplicity, holiness and vision; and, especially after its adoption in the 1960s by a broad audience who became interested and felt connected to the indigenous spirituality of North America.

It is a book, however, that is embedded in controversy.

First because it was compiled by a white American, John G. Neihardt, with all the complications that entails: how much is Black Elk? How much is 'lost in translation' (as Black Elk spoke to Neihardt in Lakota, a language that had to be translated into English); and, how much did Neihardt edit and interpret through his own particular filters?

Second because though Black Elk was here presented articulating and defending the vision and pattern of his indigenous tradition, he was, at the time, and had been for sometime, a Roman Catholic convert. He was not o…

Everyone is interesting, even if to requires a few sherries to find out how

V.S. Naipaul, who died recently, once asked one of his interviewers, before he would permit them to start, "What have you read? And don't lie." He was a legendary curmudgeon.

It put me in mind of a question, Lady Wheare, once my landlady in Oxford, put to me, as a prospective tenant. "Have you read War and Peace?" Pause. "There is a test, you know!" I never did discover whether you were rejected if you said no (or if she felt you might be lying in saying yes).

She was a remarkable woman, and formidable, as this obituary in the Oxford Times illustrates:

Since I was actually domiciled in the same house (two cottages in Wolvercote partially converted into one), I had an opportunity to watch her in action closely!

Though a devout Christian, she had a skepticism about bishops and women priests (they failed in voice projecti…

The prescient, secular saint: Aldous Huxley

Though usually resistant to the charms of long biographies, I will happily make an exception for Sybille Bedford's two volume biography of her friend, Aldous Huxley, both for its subject matter and its accomplishment. Since Bedford know Huxley well, at critical moments she can enliven the text with her own direct memory and because she was a friend of Maria and Laura, Huxley's wives, she can sympathetically see him from the perspective of the two people, especially Maria, who was the closest to him. As a novelist in her own right, she gives her book a narrative flow that is admirable most especially when it weaves judicious quotation from both the work and letters to and fro. In spite of (or because of) her friendship, she maintains an admirable objectivity, serving her subject's striving after truthfulness with her own. Unlike many apparent biographers, she has a lively interest in what her subject believed as well as did, in his ideas and their expression.

It confirmed …