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Life of Pi

At least a couple of us are done with this book. I thought I'd post some of the questions from the back of the book, although they seem like odd questions to me.

1. In his introductory note Yann Martel says, "This book was born as I was hungry." What sort of emotional nourishment might Life of Pi have fed to its author?

2. In the Author's Note, Mr. Adirubasamy boldly claims that this story "will make you believe in God," and the author, after researching and writing the story, agrees. Did Pi's tale alter your beliefs about God?

Back later with my responses, after others have a chance . . . but I'll say two things about the questions:

a. It seems odd that the questions don't distinguish between "the author" in the "author's note"--clearly a fictional character--and the author who wrote the book.

b. These questions have a faux-naif schoolteachery for-your-enrichment quality that makes me grit my teeth. But I'm too lazy to make up my own questions, and these may be good enough to get discussion going.

Comments

1. In his introductory note Yann Martel says, "This book was born as I was hungry." What sort of emotional nourishment might Life of Pi have fed to its author?

I guess one of the themes of the book is how to find the will to survive adversity. Maybe writing the book is his Tiger. Maybe we all need to find our own Tiger. Even if we don't have to survive a shipwreck, we are all marooned here, on the Ocean of Life. No Exit.

I don't have a clue really.

2. In the Author's Note, Mr. Adirubasamy boldly claims that this story "will make you believe in God," and the author, after researching and writing the story, agrees. Did Pi's tale alter your beliefs about God

No. I am already a believer plus I am already an "all paths lead to the same place," touchy-feely sort of believer, so no, not at all. I don't think Martel had any intention of altering people's beliefs in God one way or another. In fact, I am not sure if Martel even believes in God. It seems like a ridiculous question, written by one of a series of low-paid flunkies, one of whom read only a summary of the book, not the actual text, hence the confusion of the author with The Author. If anything, I would think the book would undermine one's belief. Clearly, the universe of Life of Pi is one of random accident, not divine intervention. Unless you think that God's idea of a sick joke would be to put that tiger on the boat with Pi.

b. These questions have a faux-naif schoolteachery for-your-enrichment quality that makes me grit my teeth. But I'm too lazy to make up my own questions, and these may be good enough to get discussion going.

Or not.
Complain, complain. Come up with your own questions then, missy.

1. In his introductory note Yann Martel says, "This book was born as I was hungry." What sort of emotional nourishment might Life of Pi have fed to its author?

My answer: The “Yann Martel” who claims to have been hungry is a character in a novel. Martel has reached back to pre-20th century fiction, when authors often tried to make their books sound like actual documents that could have been produced in the real world. It’s possible that Martel-the-author might have been hungry in the same way, but while fictional Martel might take spiritual nourishment from the story he heard and believed, it seems unlikely that the Martel-the-author could take the same kind of satisfaction in a story that he invented. Why would his ability to invent a story strengthen his spiritual beliefs in a nourishing way? Perhaps the non-fictional Martel might be exploring his beliefs--putting them to the test by seeing how they hold up under hypothetical circumstances.

There have been writers who wrote out of spiritual hunger--Emily Dickinson comes to mind. In her case, the results were artistically remarkable, but spiritually frustrating. Her poems are like X-Files: all evidence withheld, all witnesses dead.

2. In the Author's Note, Mr. Adirubasamy boldly claims that this story "will make you believe in God," and the author, after researching and writing the story, agrees. Did Pi's tale alter your beliefs about God?

My answer: Of course not. We don’t need to decide which is the better story about God; we don’t need to have a story about God at all. Pi’s unlikely but entertaining story doesn’t make religious stories more or less likely to be true. Patel compares his unlikely life story (and other unlikely spiritual narratives) to a lottery: it's extremely unlikely that you'll win, but someone has to. (Chap. 99) But the analogy won't do. In a lottery, a prize is given out, and while any one individual is unlikely to win the prize, there’s nothing unlikely about *someone* winning it. But, given the extreme unlikelihood of the supernatural stories that religions tell, there is no reason to believe that there is any other-worldly prize at all, and thus there’s nothing unlikely about no one receiving the prize.

My guess, though, is that Martel himself is a touchy-feely "all roads lead to the same place" kind of guy as well. Pi doesn't care what The Truth is, he just takes whatever spiritual sustenance he can from various religions, and from his experiences.

The tiger is, perhaps, the Sublime. You know, "What immortal hand or eye / Dare frame thy fearful symmetry," and all that. What kind of God would put the tiger in the lifeboat? The God of the book of Job. The God who says, "How dare an insignificant mortal like you expect answers to questions?" The tiger is what's beyond grasping, like the Leviathan. Perhaps the tiger *is* God with His cruel Old Testament face on. If so, then Pi makes a truce with God: "I'll respect your sublimity if you respect my boundaries." I dunno, it's one way of looking at it.
Question 3. "Chapters 22 and 23 are very short, yet the author has said that they are at the core of the novel. Can you see how?"

Well...Chapter 23 suggests that agnostics, through their lack of imagination and "dry, yeastless factuality," may miss the "better story" (the religious one). (Ho, hum.) Chapter 99 echoes this: The investigators admit that the story "with animals" (the one in the book) is better than the story "without animals" (the one Pi makes up when they don't believe the animal story). Pi says, "Thank you. And so it goes with God." So I guess the idea is that, when we can't know the answers, we should make a leap of faith and believe the "better story" (assuming we can agree on what that is). What do you think?

It strikes me that Mulder would feel right at home in this novel, but that Scully would have a lot of questions.
So I guess the idea is that, when we can't know the answers, we should make a leap of faith and believe the "better story" (assuming we can agree on what that is). What do you think?

In general, I would say that is wrong. I always want a scientific explanation for things, if one is available. (I take some things on faith, we all do, to one extent or another.) I am with Scully on that. But having had a religious experience means that for all my rationalism, I would be telling a falsehood if I said I didn't believe. For me, it isn't even a matter of belief-- I can't deny my own experience of the reality of God.

I think you are wrong about their respective positions on religious faith. In this one instance, Mulder is the skeptic and Scully, at least by the end of season four, is the believer. Since there can't be any clear proof of the existence of God, I think most of us are free to choose. Personally, I think if that if you choose not to believe, God is okay with that. I mean honestly, if God really wanted everyone to believe, why not just make an appearance at the Super Bowl or something? I also don't think that agnostics have no imagination. In fact, I would say that anyone who believes in anything in an unquestioning way is at risk for worse problems than just a lack of imagination.

Edited at 2008-09-02 03:26 am (UTC)
Under the Moon

November 2011

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