Book Roundup

Phillips has also brought to life an array of minor characters who leap from the page with welcome peculiarity. Perhaps the greatest of these is Henry, Ruth's second husband, a simple, childlike oaf whose Zen-like carelessness begs the reader for adoration. With the exception of a few contrived scenes, White Rabbit is often humorous, frequently illuminating, and, at the very least, offers readers a chance to ponder the fickle nature of time, along with what lies in store for us at the end of the road. (Matthew Sullivan)

Yi-Fu Tuan

Cosmos and Hearth:
A Cosmopolite's Viewpoint

University of Minnesota Press

THAT PATRICK BUCHANAN'S isolationism and attendant bigotry beguile many Americans should come as no surprise. Pulling back into our warm, homogeneous burrows for a simpler life of passionate moralism (e.g. "the family") is a universal human desire, one which has gained a lot of ground in the U.S. in recent years. We're living in a time that Yi-Fu Tuan, a geographer at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, sees as a tenuous moment in our history, teetering between the poles of an essential dichotomy that has defined all humanity for all of history: that of the "cosmos" and the "hearth."

Tuan defines cosmos as, among other things, enlightenment. Western cultures, beginning with ancient Greece and dribbling on down to the contemporary U.S., strive to conquer their environment through reason, and erect massive structures of government and architecture to fortify an outward-looking philosophy. Theology, astronomy, and law are abstract tools with which cosmopolitan cultures order their universe. Conversely, many primitive cultures center themselves around the cohesion of a smaller unit, the hearth, and focus on its immediate needs; they relegate most of the cosmos to a misunderstood "otherland" which is perceived as dangerous and unkind. Sound familiar?

The United States is essentially a cosmopolitan place, founded upon an unwavering belief in the good of progress and the infallibility of the dyad "democracy" and "science." However, Tuan argues, this great era of reason has rapidly declined since the '60s, when critical skepticism began to break apart beliefs in government and other ordering institutions. As the fabric of cosmopolitan culture dissolves, people take refuge in smaller groups; minority groups look inward to reaffirm identity, as with Afrocentric or Aryan supremacist movements.

Tuan's brief book is remarkably sweeping in its conception, and eschews easy answers in favor of a more sensitive probing of human culture. In the end he neatly comes down just to one side of the middle (hence the book's subtitle) in his belief that Americans need to reestablish ties to the hearth, but only as a viable means of affirming diversity. Otherwise, we must also realize the "impermanence of our state wherever we are"--that we are never truly bound by a locale, other than our common membership in the cosmos. We are forever bound to look outward. (Paul Bennett)

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