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380Philosophy and Literature The Ignorant Perfection ofOrdinary People, by Robert Inchausti ; 175 pp. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991, $39.50 cloth, $12.95 paper. Robert Inchausti considers in this book several prominent figures of our time, all of whom are almost universally admired for their moral vision and their practical action. He calls these individuals "plebeian postmoderns," common people who have, through their public acts, sought to fill the vacancies left by the failure of Christianity and the inadequacies of the modern Marxist political state. According to Inchausti, the plebeian postmodern shuns the abstract in favor of the concrete and adopts "an ethic existing in time, unfolding in history, rather than an atemporal system floating in abstract philosophical spaces" (p. 13). Most ofhis volume is spent examining the lives and philosophies of six representatives of this plebeian sublime: Mahatma Ghandhi, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Elie Wiesel, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Lech Walesa. Gandhi's ethics of nonviolence had as its revolutionary goal the transformation , not the killing, of one's enemies. Often ignored by Westerners, one of Ghandhi's central teachings was that one cannot adopt a moral stance until one has earned it through suffering, confession, and repentance. It is well known that Martin Luther King,Jr., was heavily influenced by the example ofGandhi's nonviolent noncooperation, and Inchausti tackles the sensitive problem of the apparent contradiction between King's private sins and his public preaching and action by demonstrating how King's Christian convictions led him to prove, through nonviolent action, that public virtue is possible even to the sinful and frail individual. In fact, King realized that his involvement in these public acts of nonviolence actually began to effect spiritual changes within him. Finally, he developed a Christian version of the ethics of nonviolence—one which recognized the two-kingdom theology and one which emphasized the moral strengthening of the individual involved in community action. Mother Teresa, too, stressed the necessity for practical action, rather than ideology alone. Instead ofpresenting rational, philosophic arguments for Christianity , both King and Mother Teresa urge a different kind of speech, one which relies on a sensitive response to human suffering. Mother Teresa represents "love in action," maybe the only way Christianity achieves viability in a secular age. Her response to the poor is most revolutionary because it is an "act of refusal" to acquiesce to the cultural and materialistic pressures of our time. Solzhenitsyn also resists cultural constraints by providing answers to the dialectical reasoning ofMarxism in an emphasis on the particulars ofstory. Feeling that Marxism's greatest failing lies in its elevation of theory above human experience and progress above even theory, Solzhenitsyn, both within the gulag Reviews381 and apart from it in exile, purposely stands outside of history and its "-isms." In this position he consciously rejects any aesthetic ofthe elite and forces himself to confront and defend his fellow humans by using his own voice, which has acquired moral authority through suffering, to produce an art of incarnation. Inchausti describes teaching Night to a class of fourteen-year-olds profoundly moved by Elie Wiesel's graphic and horrifying picture of the public hanging of a child inside a concentration camp. Wiesel himself believes that the literary imagination and its focus on the particulars of story and character are the keys to keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive. Through reading one is able to rectify wrong by vicarious participation as victim, observer, and perpetrator. The Holocaust demands a new ethical, postmodern vision because the old ideological structures cannot contain it, much less provide corrections for injustice . The final figure Inchausti considers is Lech Walesa, markedly plebeian, providing a strong example for a thesis about the ignorant perfection of ordinary people. "For twenty-five years I was at the bottom," Walesa says. "I was at the bottom, I am at the bottom, I will be at the bottom." Upon hearing that he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Cambridge, he said, "As who? As a worker?" Here is another example of a common man with a strong religious faith that cannot be reduced to an ideology. "At the heart of his worldview is an image...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 380-381
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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