Archives For Lev Grossman


A Review of Ernst Bloch’s

Since its original publication in 1968, Ernst Bloch’s Atheism in Christianity: The Religion of the Exodus and the Kingdom has been the book to deal with by any serious quester after knowledge of the deep symbiotic relationship between those über-‘Others’, Christianity and Atheism. As an unabashed utopian Marxist thinker philosopher, Bloch (1885 – 1977) eschews that ‘excess of hyper-rationalism or dogmatic materialism’ his more prosaic musular atheist stable mates generally bring to discussions of religion. In the words of Peter Thompson, Director of the Centre for Ernst Bloch Studies at the University of Sheffield, in his excellent Introduction to this long unavailable classic, ‘Ernst Bloch and the Quantum Mechanics of Hope’ (i – xxx, i):

(R)eligion as both debate and way of life has not crumbled in the face of an apparently inexorable rationalist, scientific, modernising Enlightenment and the globalisation of the market economy, but retains a potency and strength which remains far in excess of its ability to explain.

Bloch himself rubbed shoulders with that unique coterie of enlightened radical Marxists – Brecht, Adorno, Benjamin, for example. Perhaps we have the embryo of some such today in Eagleton, Badiou, Žižek, Habermas and others for whom religion-averse aggressive sorts of atheistic fundamentalism are as intellectually uncongenial as the ‘exclusively modern phenomenon’ (Habermas 2001: 10) of their religion counterparts. Marx’s own dialectical understanding of religiosity, captured well in his open-minded insight into ‘the opium of the masses, the heart of the heartless world’ pervades Bloch’s ‘detective work’, as he himself called it, on the emancipatory – for which, read ‘heretical’, a favourite Blochian trope – potential within Christianity. Bloch’s exegesis of the Bible is an insider’s hermeneutic, unlike that verstehen-free religion-cynical spleen of Hitchens, Dawkins, Gray and other high priests of resurgent Darwinism.

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Ernst Bloch.

Paperback: Verso, 2009.
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A Review of Esther Sternberg’s

I have a keen interest in the healing dimensions of space, and in particular the role of landscape architecture and exterior spaces to provide this function. This comes from doing a lot of work and research in the realm of therapeutic garden design over the years in hospital, hospice, and eldercare facilities. I first became interested in the phenomenon while doing my undergraduate final project related to a cemetery design that utilized physical space design to aid in the bereavement process, and was fascinated by the connection between environmental design and health. There is an innate connection between space and health – but sometimes the connections, both physiologically and spatially, are a bit fuzzy. There are a number of successful examples in literature and design, but often there is either dismissal of designs as unscientific by the medical community, or by inadequate application and understanding of scientific concepts and mechanisms by designers – resulting in poor or partially realized applications.

That’s where Ms. Sternberg’s book shines. It is not neccesarily a ‘how-to’ (there are a growing number of resources out there in this genre), but more aptly a bridge between the scientific research of the concept of healing and how this work in the design of spaces. The book spans the available research, starting with some of the more intuitive architectural concepts of Wright, Aalto, and Neutra, touching on the pioneering work of Ulrich, and expanding on the growing design-science connections being made by collaborations between space design and health research, and looking specifically at both the microcosm of hospitals, and the macro-scale of cities, and the range of designs that this thinking can inform.

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Esther Sternberg.

Hardback: Harvard UP, 2009.
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BookForum Reviews
Lev Grossman’s new novel

Lev Grossman’s third novel, The Magicians, pulls liberally from a grab bag of very familiar fantasy tropes: the troubled boy–turned–master conjurer; the school of wizardry, hidden by spellcraft in plain sight; the sinister presence that haunts the students’ nightmares; even a sport played, tournament-style, exclusively by young mages. As the book opens, seventeen-year-old Quentin Coldwater is preparing to leave his bucolic Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood for the greener lawns of the Ivy League. He has a small circle of friends, kind but distant parents, and a GPA “higher than most people even realize it is possible for a GPA to be.”

And yet something is awry. Although Quentin has “painstakingly assembled all the ingredients of happiness . . . happiness, like a disobedient spirit, refused to come.” On a bitter winter day, he stumbles through one of Park Slope’s myriad community gardens, past “the corpses of gladiolas, petunias, shoulder-high sunflowers, rosebushes,” and onto the campus of Brakebills College. Here, on an aging country estate, Quentin has been summoned to learn magic from an eclectic cast of master wizards. “First things first: magic is real,” the dean of Brakebills tells him shortly after his arrival. “This isn’t summer school, Quentin. This is . . . the whole shebang.”

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Lev Grossman.

Hardback: Viking, 2009.
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