Marking His Territory

Findings, Epigrams, Essays & Other One-Offs, J.P.Greene
[51pp, $9.00, Yesternow & Company, PO Box 471, Walnut Creek, CA94597]

Findings consists of 4 main sections - 'The Psyche', 'History', 'Culture, Literature and The Arts' and 'Religion'; sandwiched between 5 shorter sections of epigrams, entitled 'Pour l'Agniappe', 'Tweeners' (3 sections of these) and 'Enders'.  If it had an Index, it would include among many other headings Ashberry, Behaviourism, computer literacy, Dachau, Dante, Eliot, Empiricism, Germans, the Greeks, incest, Jesus, Judaism, marriage, Pascal, Postmodernism, Pound, Realpolitik, Romanticism, Shakespeare, Totalitarianism, Wagner and Violence.

Here's a taster:

     The fundamental contradiction that science poses to religion does not
     lie in its refutation, express or implied, of the specific assertions of religion,
     or even in the extent to which it predisposes the practitioners of science or
     those influenced by them, their method or achievements to an attitude of
     rejection or skepticism with regard to all assertions of the former class, but
     in the overwhelming mass of evidence testifying with a finality and precision
     never before dreamed of to the transience, causality, and relativity of every
     manifestation of being within a matrix of time and space of unimaginable
     dimensions.  (p.49)

That's a single sentence huffily, puffily, pedantically asserting (I think) that scientific insights into space, time and causality are incompatible with religon. And I can see that some scientific insights pose particular challenges to certain aspects of certain religions, but a challenge is not the same as a fundamental contradiction. Hasn't Buddhism for example always acknowledged 'a matrix of time and space of unimaginable dimensions'? Doesn't Greene's sentence beg so many questions, for all its fussy chop-logic, that it's virtually meaningless?

It would be a tedious and lengthy process to go through this book picking up every instance of verbosity and arguing with every dubious assertion.  The problem is not with this or any specific argument, but that Greene is a writer who fundamentally disrespects language. Just occasionally the effect is hilarious, like Polonius on speed, but more often it's profoundly depressing.  On page one, for example, he offers the following 'epigram'

     A summit, after all, is nothing but a small plateau.

Er, no. A summit is a summit, and a plateau a plateau. The words denote precisely different things, in a particular relation to one another. You might as usefully say that 'a semi-quaver is nothing, after all, but a small minim'. Or 'a sock is nothing, after all, but a tight hat'. You wouldn't expect a writer who pointedly handles language with this degree of po-faced hubris to have anything particularly insightful to say about poetry, postmodernist or otherwise, and Greene doesn't.

In fact
Findings doesn't have an index to help you locate Greene's ruminations on Eliot or Ashberry. Which is fair enough in its way, because the declared purpose of the book isn't to inform or entertain or move or even to persuade, but (as it says on the dust-jacket) to 'mark the boundaries of the author's mind, i.e. include what he thinks most deeply about - plus a few things he never thought about at all until they popped into his head and this book'.
Ah, silly me... Now I get it: it's all about J.P himself, wetting the lamp-posts of his personal intellectual territory. So that OK then, I'll just take it on trust that the dogged polymath is actually thinking very deeply as he trots between.

        Jane Seal 2008