A Partial Enlightenment: What Modern Literature and Buddhism Can Teach Us About Living Well Without Perfection

Avram Alpert. Columbia Univ., $30 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-0-231-20003-5
Alpert (Global Origins of the Modern Self), a professor of writing at Princeton, examines Buddhist thought across world literature in this pleasant outing. Asserting that novels that incorporate a “modern global Buddhism” can function as a guide for living out Buddhist beliefs in a chaotic world, Alpert considers characters who have “moved past the desire for complete resolution” and who can “appreciate the minor insights and partial enlightenments.” He mulls over references to enlightenment in Rudyard Kipling’s Kim (1900) and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899), which link enlightenment with the politics of empire: “the merit you accrue for” helping the empire “help[s] you become enlightened yourself in a future cycle of existence.” Reincarnation is addressed in the novels of J.M. Coetzee, Yukio Mishima, and Jamyang Norbu, which consider living a good life in the present. Alpert considers themes of personal and political liberation through transformation in Cuban writer Severo Sarduy’s Cobra, and illustrates how authenticity of character is an evolving process through close readings of J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey (1955) and Zadie Smith’s The Autograph Man (2002). Buddhist students and literature lovers will find much to ponder in Alpert’s close textual readings. (Apr.)
Reviewed on : 02/22/2021
Release date: 04/01/2021
Genre: Religion
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-0-231-55339-1
Hardcover - 264 pages - 978-0-231-20002-8
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