Consuming Visions
Mass Culture and the Lourdes Shrine
Suzanne K. Kaufman
(Cornell University Press)
The commodification of Lourdes began shortly after sweet Bernadette had her multifold visions in 1858. Within four years, Bishop Laurence of Tarbes authorized "a new cult of the Grotto of Lourdes," and two years later, he asked the missionaries of Notre-Dame de Garaison to take over the holy development.

They promptly did so, were officially named "the Grotto fathers," and within a few years, with a mixture of reconstruction and a touch of commercial divinity, had made Lourdes the most-visited pilgrim destination in the world, outside of Rome and Jerusalem.

It was necessary early on to set the theme of Lourdes as one of "peasant piety." The masses were to be "edified and entertained." Fortunately, Bernadette Soubirous had chosen to sequester herself with the Sisters of Charity, so her image as a pious peasant was allowed to flourish. Her disappearance into a nunnery also helped to rid the good fathers of "a visionary whose behavior might prove embarrassing," something that had haunted other holy sites in 19th Century France.

An early book, Notre-Dame de Lourdes told of "hardy mountain folk who believed in Bernadette's visions [and] foiled the government's attempt to destroy the shrine." The author, Henri Lasserre, a devout Catholic journalist, in his "melodramatic rendering of the Bernadette story"

    also sought to represent Lourdes as a vibrant, unchanging site of peasant spirituality. Reflecting the nostalgic romanticism that was then drawing learned urbanites to France's fast-disappearing peasant culture, the book was an immdiate best-seller, going through 142 editions in its first seven years.

Key to its success was "the author's vivid retelling of the numerous cures at the site ... depicted as real-life dramas complete with citations from Bishop Laurence's episcopal inquiry [which] portrayed the grotto as an ongoing site of supernatural intervention."

Kaufman points out that the coming of railways, popular press (both secular and religious), film, trinkets and guidebooks quickly served to catapult the once tiny town into a site visited by millions, where the experience was orchestrated to make it a "modern" pilgrimage site ... perhaps the first to incorporate extensive PR, urban renewal (Lourdes was virtually rebuilt in the thirty years after the visions), and, most of all, teaching "pilgrims to be consumers." For the first time, religious consumption was elevated to a genuine spiritual activity, with hundreds of shops along the newly constructed rue de la Grotte and boulevard de la Grotte selling relics, portraits of the Virgin (gussied up to meet Catholic doctrine), Lourdes water (sold both by the bottle and in tablet form) and other pietistic objets d'art.

Kaufman discusses at some length the battles that ensued after Émile Zola's book Lourdes offered the opinion that the miracles that occurred at the site --- mostly to peasant women who had little sophistication but great piety --- were "mind" cures, not "body" cures. This being France, Zola's opinions evoked passionate controversy which, Kaufman claims, never did resolve the question of whether the miracles had or had not occurred, but, she opines, they provided fine entertainment in fin de siècle France. She suggests that they offered an telling counterpoint to the Dreyfus affair which erupted with similar bitterness, internecine warfare, and general Gallic hot-headedness.

§     §     §

Kaufman has a dispassionate view of a world of miracle, commercialization, manipulation, consumerism, and god-for-sale. There may be a tad too much repetition of --- for instance --- the great random factors that came together to make Lourdes the place for down-home miracles in the midst of carefully programmed entertainments, diversions, pageant and religious uplift in the Lourdes entrepôt. However, we are assured by the author in this comprehensive overview of Lourdes, its magic cures, and its heavy capital gains, that the typically cynical French had their doubts about who was selling what to whom, and why.

--- Jean-Louis Parmentier

True Happiness
Cultivating a Life of Unconditional Joy
and the Power to Benefit Others

Pema Chödrön
(Sounds True)
These CDs were recorded during a yarne at Gampo Abbey monastery in Nova Scotia. Pema Chödrön is a beloved figure in the world of American Buddhism, featured at retreats and in the bellwether magazine of the movement, Tricycle. She's the author of The Places that Scare You and When Things Fall Apart.

She does have some verbal tics to be found here that may mar her presentation for some. You might even want to skip the first disk: It does not delve into her beliefs, but rather is a preamble to the long retreat.

Too, her thoughts on the sacredness of life can be a bit trying for those of us who live in the malarial swamps of the insect belt. For instance, if we find a fly in our soup, Pema Chödrön suggests that instead of cursing the waiter or the calling out the kitchen help, that we try to put it in a place where it can revive. (We prefer Evans-Wentz's method: put the beestie out of its misery, at the same time inviting it to return to life in a slightly more beautiful --- if not delicious --- form.)

Still, Pema Chödrön's faith in humans (and her listeners) cannot be gainsaid; and her beliefs on how to attack kleshas can be choice. She urges continuing meditation on those troubles that dull the mind and drive our lives, for --- she says --- "under the doubt and fear you will find sorrow. And underneath that, the sky."

Sounds True has some other disks in their collection which could perhaps be more enlightening for beginners. One of the best is "The Roots of Buddhist Psychology" with Jack Kornfield. He's funny, insightful, and leads you into mindfulness in a, uh, very mindful way. Another, which we found especially diverting, and very wise, was Jakusho Kjwong Roshi's "Breath Sweeps Mind." It starts off so casually that you think he might be out to lunch; instead, it turns out, he's so good you want to invite him in for the rest of the weekend.

--- Lolita Lark

The Coming Race
Edward Bulwer-Lytton
The hero of this science fiction tale from 1871 is named Fenwick. On a caving expedition, he literally falls through the earth to arrive in the warm and bright land of the Ana far below the earth's surface.

They are a peaceable, wise, and loving people, living comfortably somewhere near the magma of the earth's center. They are noble, with high foreheads, "tall, not gigantic, but tall as the tallest men below the height of giants." When Fenwick meets the first of the Ana, he describes it as follows: "Its chief covering seemed to me to be composed of large wings folded over its breast and reaching to its knees ... it wore on its head a kind of tiara that shone with jewels." The stranger resembles

    a sculpted sphinx --- so regular in its calm, intellectual, mysterious beauty. Its color was peculiar, more like that of the red man than either variety of our species, and yet different from it --- a richer and a softer hue, with large black eyes, deep and brilliant, and brows arched as a semicircle."

§     §     §

Bulwar-Lytton was an odd duck, a 19th Century figure who wrote too much, and yet all the while had time to be elected to the Parliament and even, god knows, be offered the kingship of Greece. He was, as we can gather from The Coming Race somewhat of an idealist, one who despaired of his own early Victorian world, hoping to find others more acceptable above (or below).

He wrote volumes, but much of what appears here can best be described as a stylistic dud. Plotting was not his forte.

We have reviewed before, with much fondness, antique science-fiction collections from the 19th Century republished by Wesleyan University Press. For instance, Sydney Fowler Wright's Deluge entranced us, as did Olaf Stapleton's much beloved Starmaker. But The Coming Race is a mechanical trope, a parody of the author's own needs and woes written in stolid if not mechanical prose.

And you know that something is amiss when the text takes up 130 pages, and the introduction and appendix about the same. Let us hope that Wesleyan continues to publish these hoary old novels; let us hope they will strive to find better than this.

--- Annette Seamans
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