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Imperfection

Athabasca University Press | Cultural Dialectics


“…aspirations to perfection awaken us to our actual imperfection.” It is in the space between these aspirations and our inability to achieve them that Grant reflects upon imperfection. Grant argues that an awareness of imperfection, defined as both suffering and the need for justice, drives us to an unrelenting search for perfection, freedom, and self-determination. The twenty-one brief chapters of Imperfection develop this governing idea as it relates to the present situation of the God debate, modern ethnic conflicts, and the pursuit of freedom in relation to the uncertainties of personal identity and the quest for self-determination.

Known for his exploration of the relationship between Buddhism and violent ethnic conflict in modern Sri Lanka, as well as his contribution to the study of Northern Ireland and the complex relationships among religion, literature, and ethnicity, Grant provides the reader with an analysis of the widespread rise of religious extremism across the globe. Referencing Plato, Van Gogh, Jesus, and the Buddha, he enlightens the reader with both succinct and original insights into human society. Imperfection is the result of an important Canadian public intellectual at work.

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A mature scholar and established literary critic, Patrick Grant is professor emeritus of English at the University of Victoria. He is the author of Buddhism and Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka, Literature, Rhetoric, and Violence in Northern Ireland, and Personalism and the Politics of Culture among other works.

 
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Reading Vincent van Gogh

Athabasca University Press


Soon after his death, Vincent van Gogh’s reputation grew and developed through the remarkably symbiotic relationship evident between his paintings and letters. However, the sheer bulk and complexity of Van Gogh’s complete surviving correspondence presents a formidable challenge to those who wish to read and analyze the whole text as a literary work.

Reading Vincent van Gogh is at once an interpretive guide to Van Gogh’s letters and a distillation of the key themes that reoccur throughout his collected letters—foremost among them the motifs of suffering, love, imagination, and the ineffable. In this indispensable, synoptic view of the letters, Patrick Grant makes the main lines of Vincent van Gogh’s thinking accessible and displays the arresting vividness of the well-known artist’s writing.

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Patrick Grant, professor emeritus of English at the University of Victoria, is best known for his studies on literature and religion. He is the author, most recently, of two other criticisms of Van Gogh's letters, The Letters of Vincent van Gogh (2014) and My Own Portrait in Writing (2015).

 
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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

Athabasca University Press | Cultural Dialectics


When he died at the age of thirty-seven, Vincent van Gogh left a legacy of over two thousand artworks, for which he is now justly famous. But van Gogh was also a prodigious writer of letters—more than eight hundred of them, addressed to his parents, to friends such as Paul Gauguin, and, above all, to his brother Theo. His letters have long been admired for their exceptional literary quality, and art historians have sometimes drawn on the letters in their analysis of the paintings. And yet, to date, no one has undertaken a critical assessment of this remarkable body of writing—not as a footnote to the paintings but as a highly sophisticated literary achievement in its own right. Patrick Grant’s long-awaited study provides such an assessment and, as such, redresses a significant omission in the field of van Gogh studies.

As Grant demonstrates, quite apart from furnishing a highly revealing self-portrait of their author, the letters are compelling for their imaginative and expressive power, as well as for the perceptive commentary they offer on universal human themes. Through a subtle exploration of van Gogh’s contrastive style of thinking and his fascination with the notion of imperfection, Grant illuminates gradual shifts in van Gogh’s ideas on religion, ethics, and the meaning of art. He also analyzes the metaphorical significance of a number of key images in the letters, which prove to yield unexpected psychological and conceptual connections, and probes the relationships that surface when the letters are viewed as a cohesive literary product. The result is a wealth of new insights into van Gogh’s inner landscape.

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“I found Grant’s arguments to be thorough, persuasive, and clearly presented. […] the book seems to have no flaws. It is a worthy read and a deserving addition to the libraries of literary and visual scholars alike.”

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Patrick Grant, professor emeritus of English at the University of Victoria, is best known for his studies on literature and religion. He is the author, most recently, of Imperfection and of Literature, Rhetoric, and Violence in Northern Ireland, 1968-98.

 
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"My Own Portrait in Writing"

Athabasca University Press | Cultural Dialectics


Art historians, biographers, and other researchers have long drawn on Van Gogh’s voluminous correspondence—more than eight hundred letters—for insights into both his personal struggles and his art. But the letters, while often admired for their literary quality, have rarely been approached as literature. In this volume, Patrick Grant sets out to explore the question, “By what criteria do we judge Van Gogh's letters to be, specifically, literary?” Drawing, especially, on Mikhail Bakhtin’s conceptualization of self-awareness as an ongoing dialogue between “self” and “other,” Grant examines the ways in which Van Gogh’s letters raise, from within themselves, questions and issues to which they also respond. Their literary quality, he argues, derives in part from this “double-voiced discourse”—from the power of the letters to thematize, through their own internal dialogues, the very structure of self-fashioning itself. Far from merely reproducing the narrative of the artist’s personal progress, “the letters enable readers to recognize how necessary yet open-ended, constrained yet liberating, confined yet unpredictable, are the means by which people seek to shape a place for themselves in the world.”

This volume builds on Grant’s earlier analysis of Van Gogh’s correspondence, The Letters of Vincent van Gogh: A Critical Study (AU Press, 2014), a study in which he approached the letters from a literary critical standpoint, delving into key patterns of metaphors and concepts. In the present volume, he provides instead a literary theoretical analysis of the letters, one that draws them more fully into the domain of modern literary studies. In his deft and keenly perceptive reading, Grant deconstructs the binaries that surface in both Van Gogh’s writing and painting, discusses the narrative dimensions of the letter-sketches and the recurring themes of fantasy, belief, and self-surrender, and draws attention to Van Gogh’s own understanding of the permeable boundary between words and visual art. Viewing the letters as an integrated body of discourse, “My Own Portrait in Writing” offers a theoretically informed interpretation of Van Gogh’s literary achievement that is, quite literally, without precedent.

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"A deep and creative inquiry suggesting meaningful structures for understanding the richness of the artist's life and work. Grant succeeds in bringing Van Gogh's letters into the domain of modern literary studies, and demonstrates that the effort opens exciting new ways of understanding the radical tensions, puzzling transformations, and internal frustrations expressed by the artist in writing, drawing, and painting."

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Patrick Grant, professor emeritus of English at the University of Victoria, is best known for his studies on literature and religion. He is the author of Imperfection, which was short-listed for the Canada Prize, and of Literature, Rhetoric, and Violence in Northern Ireland, 1968-98.

 
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