Books in brief: Robert Walser, Michael Ruse and Hans Küng
Three new books you may have missed.
A Schoolboy’s Diary
“I am certainly a proponent of the slackard’s life, laziness, happiness and peace,” writes Robert Walser’s narrator in the short piece “In the Military”. Walser, born in Switzerland in 1878, served in the National Guard and lived a precarious existence before ill-health confined him to a sanatorium in 1933. His many “prose pieces” (50 of which are collected here) capture what Ben Lerner, in his introduction, calls “a strange mix of exuberance and submission”. It is a curious outlook that sees freedom in military service but also “a million-strong crowd of . . . individuals who dispense with . . . thinking”, just before the Great War. “Is this not a picture to instil horror?” Walser asks casually.
NYRB Classics, 208pp, £8.99
The Gaia Hypothesis
The Gaia hypothesis – the idea that the earth is alive – has been scorned for the same reasons that it has been embraced. It melds biological science with feeling, mysticism and religion. Although the theory was brought to public attention by the English scientist James Lovelock in the early 1970s, the Gaia story is much older. Michael Ruse’s new book connects it with Plato through a long history of holistic thinking in order to explain why so many reject it as pseudoscience. As Lovelock said recently, “It has always seemed that many would have faith in Gaia . . . I prefer to keep a trust in Gaia; it is more consistent with science.”
University of Chicago Press, 251pp, £18
Can We Save the Catholic Church?
Hans Küng is a progressive priest best known for publicly rejecting the doctrine of papal infallibility in the 1960s and for having been among the two youngest advisers at Vatican II (the other was the arch-conservative Joseph Ratzinger). Can We Save the Catholic Church? is an impassioned critique of the centristabsolutist DNA of the Catholic Church, which prescribes strong medicine for its “diseased patients”. A copy rests on the current Pope’s nightstand.
William Collins, 350pp, £12.99