Islands and Other Essays

Islands and Other Essays - Albert Camus, Jean Grenier, Steven Light I had never heard of Jean Grenier until recently reading a Camus essay in which he speaks of the profound impact this book had on his life. So much so, that Camus provided the preface in the 1948 edition. Of Grenier, he says:
He speaks to us only of simple and familiar experiences in a language without affectation. Then he allows us to translate, each at his own convenience. Only in such conditions does art become a gift without obligation.

Grenier's angst seems at first commonplace and reminiscent of melodramatic teenage moments staring at the night sky. But then comes the point of departure. Whereas many of us retreat and subsume ourselves back into daily life, Grenier settles in. The game which we treat as an intellectual exercise, Grenier "...persists in the game. [He:] search[es:] in the ephemeral for an absolute which is not there." The Attraction of the Void. He does not retreat into the glorified havens of arbitrary existentialist values such as Truth (and yes, that's with the capital T) or truth. With almost child-like honesty, he relates.

However, the tone of the book takes on a more analytical flavor in Chapter 6. Imaginary India, without pretending to be anything other than a personal analysis, he compares Western and Eastern thought. Grenier's disillusionment with the post-modern Western man is apparent:
We westerners have enough Samson's, Prometheuses, Slaves of Michelangelo, Zarathustras. Revolt and heroism are not the only paths open to man.

It appears that Grenier seeks out a more peaceful sense of enlightenment which everyone knows is the hallmark of Eastern thought. However, as much as he may appreciate the idea of deepening one's being found in India rather than expanding it as in the West, he rails against the poor use of language in Indian culture.
Hector's farewell to Andromache takes only two pages of the Illiad, but it escapes the insipid sentimentality that spoils for us the love scenes of Sanskrit literature.

The use of language is paramount. Orwell provided Newspeak to reduce his Oceania citizenry to political correctness and it seems Grenier recognizes a similar limitation in addressing self-expression. The weakness in expressing emotion in Indian literature is also a weakness western culture has in expressing self-awareness. The contempt felt by people who, unable to express a base feeling that seems so fundamental, fall back on an assertion that it is unnecessary to do so.
(When someone says it is unnecessary to be so literary, they mean that ideas do not require any expression, indeed, any realization, and in this way they take as a point of arrival what is in fact only a point of departure).

Perhaps that is the purpose of writing this review. In attempt to capture what Grenier's book meant and express it in a way that will help me find the point of departure. I suppose that is what we all seek in a book or any exchange of ideas. To verbalize the idea so that we can construct our next step with nouns, verbs and the like. Language is one of the only intellectual materials we have with which to build.

I gave the book 5 stars, though I'm sure many would argue I'm being generous. It's hard for me to be able, at this point, to distinguish whether I enjoyed the book so much because of its impact on a writer whom I admire or whether I enjoyed it so much on its merits. Regardless, I'm grateful for Grenier.