Monday, 30 May 2011

The Life of Pi

I have been meaning to post about this book for a while.

It won loads of prizes, and is a great book. If you haven't read it, you should.

It does throw up some interesting thoughts about post-modernism though. Without giving away the plot, the story is in two halves. The first of which features, amongst other things, the protagonist, Pi, engaging with a variety of religions (plus atheism), and choosing some parts of each to follow. The sense behind this, is that all religions are paths up the same mountain, that is, of trying to understand God. The religious teachers Pi meets all argue that Pi can't pick and choose which parts to follow. (I'd probably agree with their assessment, but Pi's view is a commonly held one, and so rather than looking at the religious arguments, I'd like to point out something about the, essentially post-modern, stance that Pi takes).

Pi's father suggests that there is no incentive to follow any one religion, since all the religions are equally true and un-true, and as Pi is happy following all three (four if you include atheism), it doesn't matter which is true. This is a commonly held view, and it plays out in the second half of the book.

This takes the form of Pi recalling an incredible and fantastic story at great length. At the end, when this story is questioned with incredulity, Pi tells another story which is more realistic, but less wonderful.

The reader is not told which version of the story is true. This is very in keeping with the post-modern attitude to religion, but, crucially, you come away wanting to know which was true. The answer of 'whichever you want to be true is the truth', just doesn't satisfy.

I wonder how much this reveals the flaw in post-modern thought? In theory a fluid concept of truth holds water, but in reality, we need to have something more concrete, more solid, more real to stand upon?

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