The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Paperback Pickings

An infinity of imperfect pleasures

Eureka (Hesperus, £ 5.99) by Edgar Allan Poe is an extraordinary — and quite mad — “essay on the material and spiritual universe”, first published in 1848, by this master of the psychological thriller. Poe’s dedicatee is Alexander von Humboldt. But the preface also addresses “those who put their faith in dreams as in the only realities”. Poe presents his composition as a romance or a poem, “a book of truths, not in its character of truth-teller, but for the beauty that abounds in its truth, constituting it true”. If a cross between Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner and the Swedish mystic, Swedenborg, wrote a treatise on cosmology, then that could have been Eureka, full of erratically brilliant speculations on the expanding limitlessness of the universe, “of which the centre is everywhere, the circumference nowhere”. This is, in essence, a Romantic work on the sublime, doing with cosmology what Poe did with the human mind and the imagination in his famous story, “The Fall of the House of Usher”. Yet the human, indistinguishable from the divine, is at the core of Poe’s universe: “a novel universe swelling into existence, and then subsiding into nothingness, at every throb of the heart divine' And now — this heart divine — what is it' It is our own.” There is a wonderfully Coleridgean phrase towards the end: “the partial and pain-intertangled pleasures”.

Rio, johannesburg and beyond: india’s progress in sustainable development (Orient Longman, Rs 350) by LEAD India is an important collection of essays brought out to coincide with the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. The contributors comprise a network of professionals who work in government, media, business, academia and non-governmental organizations, all concerned with the intellectual and activist aspects of sustainable development. The developing world’s free and fair access to the global market, resource mobilization for development and the harnessing of science and technology for sustainable production and consumption — these are the central concerns of this volume. The goal is to build “a coalition for responsible frugality”.

The power of budDhism (New Leaf, Rs 150) by the Dalai Lama and Jean-Claude Carrière is “a sort of walk, ordered and disordered, very attentive, with the best possible companion”. The walker, Carrière, wrote screenplays for Luis Buñuel and the script of Peter Brook’s Mahabharata. His companion is the dalai lama himself. Carrière transcribes his 1993 conversations with the dalai lama, in the latter’s audience room near Dharamsala. Their dialogue is “open and unexpected”, and Carrière’s position is between “paralyzing respect and pointless disrespect”.

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