Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Swerve and Pleasure

I am reading the new book, “The Swerve” by Stephen Greenblatt. “Swerve” won the National Book Award in 2011. Its subtitle is “how the world became modern.” It is terrific and its about the Renaissance and intellectual history and theological history and intrigues of ideas and books. Greenblatt’s earlier book, “Will in the World—How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare” was also brilliant and a finalist for a Pulitzer. 

Now I just love this kind of chewy, rich, idea packed reading and I love to grab as much history as I missed in my earlier education—I was in the girl’s room smoking for many history classes I guess—or passing notes about cute boys.

But the reason I want to mention “The Swerve” here is not as a book review—though yes—grab this book. But this book belongs in a story about sex and cancer because Greenblatt explains with a clarity I have never read or heard—why we are so body-denying in our culture. In telling this story of how our thought changed and books were embraced and denied and rediscovered and hidden again he describes the church and intellectual shifts that took away belief in the body as a good thing and in God as a giver of pleasure and how that became disastrously distorted and left us—Western Civilization and Christians in particular --ashamed of our bodies and pain seeking rather than pleasure seeking.

All of that has contributed to shame about bodies, discomfort with talking about our need for and right to pleasure, and bonus for us in Cancer Land: a faint underground belief that illness is punishment. What a set up and what an intellectual and cultural crime.

No comments: