VONTANA Paperbacks have
a long-established and valiant reputation in the field of religious publishing and now, in the wake of Penguin Books, they have commissioned a series of original works under the umbrella title "Modern Masters". The masters are influential figures of our own time in literature and philosophy, most of whom have already accumulated a mass of exegesis, and thus the aim behind the series is worth considering.
Far from being aligned with the "Teach Yourself" (or the more sinister "Bluff Your Way in Literature") type of work, these books presuppose an informed and critical readership and all four under review give fresh lights as well as condensed information.
Orwell by Raymond Williams 6s.
In this new study an extended essay of some 80 pages we have a contemporary angle on the work and character of George Orwell. Raymond Williams has written a deeply-felt analysis of Orwell's politico-social development. The search for experience in the back-streets of London and Paris, together with the disillusioning participation in the Spanish Civil War, led Orwell to his
final passivity and all these experiences were "arranged" in his literary work.
Williams has assessed this literary work drawing parallels between the novels and the documentary side of the work which Orwell himself in typical self-deprecation called his "pamphleteering". Orwell's complete lack of self-deception together with his prophetic qualities make him a literary figure worthy of inclusion in this new series.
Joyce by John Goss 6s.
James Joyce is one of those great men whose greatness is somehow discomfitting. In spite of his disaffection, his work is steeped in Catholicity, redolent with incense and chant and loaded with Catholic imagery and symbolism. In a letter he declared war against the Catholic Church "by word and work"; small comfort to be told that his famous hell-fire sermon in "Portrait of the Artist" brought Thomas Merton into the Church!
John Goss is however, not especially concerned with Joyce's religious background except in so far as his work was enriched by it. He has written an exemplarily succinct and eminently readable essay, drawing on, and sometimes discarding, the vast resources of interpretative literature sur rounding Joyce's work and with this scholarship he reveals perceptive understanding of Joyce's complex personality. Wittgenstein by David Pears 8s.
In Cambridge during the post-war years Wittgenstein's philosophical influence had a romantic flavour. His notes were passed from hand to hand and his new concepts showed contradictions and growths which gave them their exceptional vitality. These notes were published posthumously as "Philosophical Investigations" and David Pears has taken as one of the themes of his study, the changes and developments which had taken place between the publication of the famous Tractatus and the final open-ended philosophical 'non-system' of this second work.
Wittgenstein's blend of "mysticism" and linguistic positivism which almost cancels itself out in a reductio ad absurdum, does not exclude religion and morality. The meaning of a religious proposition is not a function of what would have to he the case if it were true, but a function of the difference that it makes to the lives of those who maintain it!
He rejects the "pseudo-scientific treatment of non-factual modes of thought." David Pears makes great demands on his reader due lo the immense complexity of his subject, but his clarity of expression encourages our response to those demands.
McLuhan by Jonathan Miller 6s. •
The lively combination of Marshall McLuhan wikh the equally well-publicised Dr. Miller has produced a polemical work different in character from the others in so far as it does not claim to be disengaged.
McLuhan is firmly set down among his predecessors and the originality of his approach is gradually whittled away. It is suggested that McLuhan has concealed his personal values values implicit in his being a convert to Catholicism and that the nostalgic influence of 0. K. Chesterton's thought and possibly also his paradoxical style, has clouded the philosophical issues.
The comparison between McLuhan's optimistic view of the global village of the future and the "noosphere" of de Chardin will give the reader some idea of the pyrotechnics to expect from Dr. Miller. In spite of this essay in dissection, McLuhan's flair and impact remain and "The Mechanical Bride" might be compulsory Sixth Fom reading.