Sunday, March 16, 2014

Blog Tour: Book Review/Giveaway!! Antiphony, by Chris Katsaropoulos

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About the Book

Chris Katsaropoulos
Trade Paperback, 206 pages
Luminis Books, Inc
November 1, 2011
Literary Fiction, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Spirituality

Book Synopsis Theodore Reveil, one of the leading lights in String Theory physics, is on his way to present his latest research at a triumphant meeting of his colleagues from around the world, when he realizes he has lost the notes for his presentation.  At the podium, in the midst of his distraction and confusion, he poses the question: "What if the universe, instead of being a giant machine, is really a giant thought?"  Then he crosses a line which he can never step back over again, saying, "The infinities and singularities in these equations may be telling us that what we are missing is unknowable in terms of physical science. These unsolvable terms in our equations may be roadsigns pointing to consciousness -- to God -- as the missing piece of the puzzle."  Antiphony traces the downward spiral of Theodore's career in the wake of what he has said, and the remarkable transformation that leads him into the depths of madness....or the revelation of the Final Theory, the ultimate secret of the universe.

My Review

The very first sentence of this novel was a sheer delight to read, and I was instantly immersed in the uniquely poetic, wonderfully idiosyncratic world of Theodore Reveil, theoretical physicist.  Here's the sentence that so delighted me: "Theodore sees now that he should have brought sunglasses, for even here, within the gaping, hushed volume of the convention hotel lobby, splinters of irretrievable light reach through the wall of glass that defines the reception area and make him squint, as he tries to focus on what his wife is telling him."  With this very first sentence, Katsaropoulos sets the tone for the entire novel.  There is an age-old conflict here, deeper than the novel's surface conflict.  This underlying conflict is between a superficial view of so-called "reality" -- that which we perceive with our five senses -- and reality as seen by the poet, the mystic.  

Theodore is indeed a poet and mystic.  This only begins to become apparent to him when, having lost his notes for an important scientific presentation, he first experiences the stirrings of awareness of that numinous world underlying the one perceived only by the senses.  The reader, however, already knows that Theodore is no ordinary scientist, just from reading that first sentence of Chapter One.  Theodore realizes that he should have brought sunglasses with him.  This is an obviously practical observation, belonging to the world of consensual reality.  He then perceives "the gaping, hushed volume of the reception lobby", as "the splinters of irretrievable light reach through the wall of glass".  This perception is a poetic, as well as mystical, one.

This conflict between the perception of "ordinary" and "mystical" reality, for me, is what makes Antiphony such a powerful literary and artistic statement.  The title, aside from its meaning as "responsive alternation of two groups, especially of singers" (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary) can also be read as "anti-phony", which I think refers to Theodore's inability to accept what society at large holds as true: that consensual, "common-sense" reality is the only reality there is.  However, those who, like Theodore, have experienced the call of that mysterious, spiritual world, will agree that it does exist.  Children, for instance, are very much aware of this reality, and I think that's the reason Katsaropoulos chose to identify his protagonist as "Theodore", instead of "Dr. Reveil", throughout the novel.  Theodore is childlike in several ways, but the most important one is in his sense of wonder at the behavior of molecules, atoms, galaxies, and, indeed, the whole universe.  

Contrasted with Theodore's open, wondering capacity is his wife's complete unawareness of anything but consensual reality.  In fact, at the beginning of the novel, she prefers going to a spa to attending her husband's presentation, on the grounds that she will not understand most, or all, of what he will talk about during the event.  Ilene is the typical ordinary person who never wonders, never ponders, never questions the foundations of this so-called "reality".  So, of course, she and Theodore never really connect, whether on a spiritual, emotional, or intellectual level.  This made me wonder why he ever married her.  It also made me dislike her, even as I realized that she couldn't help being the way she was. 

I'm wondering if perhaps the author sees Theodore's wife as the archetype of Woman, totally immersed in a reality of the senses, one that she does not question or wonder about.  If I'm right in this assessment, then I must disagree with such a view of the female gender, as there are plenty of intellectual women who have also been great poets, scientists, artists, and indeed, have questioned and wondered at reality just as much as men have.

I suppose Ilene's presence in the novel was necessary, however, in order to emphasize the difference between the two perceptions of reality.  Thus, I am reminded of Hermann Hesse's Steppenwolf, in which the protagonist, Harry Haller, an intellectual, battles against his instinctual side, and later meets a woman, Hermine, who exemplifies the life of the senses.  Although the conflict in Hesse's novel is of another order entirely, this author, too, contrasts a man involved in an inner, very personal conflict, with a woman who is simply content to experience, to go along with the flow of life.

In all fairness to Ilene, I should also mention that, in the midst of all his mystical visions and endless theorizing about the true nature of reality, consciousness, and the universe, Theodore does seem to lose sight of his wife as a person in her own right.  Even though he and Ilene are not really compatible, he could at least have made some effort to connect with her in some way.  But then, so should Ilene have made her own efforts to connect with her husband.  Thus, aside from the central themes, Katsaropoulos also presents the scenario of a marriage that has settled into a rather monotonous routine, with little to no communication, on any level, between the two people involved.  This aspect of the novel, in conjunction with its main themes, lend it a definite air of melancholy, and even despair. 

Literary fiction, as opposed to genre fiction, does not necessarily rely upon plot twists and turns, or relentless action, in order to grab a reader's attention, and pull him/her along as the plot develops.  This novel is a case in point.  Rather than twists or turns, or mad chases to save the world from a villain or villains, the narrative mesmerizes the reader with its brilliant strangeness, its detailed description of seemingly trivial, ordinary events and objects that becomes a luminous landscape of great beauty.  Even in those passages full of what amounts to pure gibberish, the author succeeds in holding the reader's attention.  At least, that was very true in my own case. 

The book shifts from one reality to the other, as the plot, which takes place within a short period of only three days, develops.  The plot is, in fact, an antiphony, as the two perceptions of reality come to the forefront, merge, then separate, never entirely blending, yet somehow, never entirely separating, either. 

There are a couple of other drawbacks I also need to mention.  For me,  the novel's surface conflict -- that of a scientist disgraced because of his assertion that the universe is really a giant thought, and that the Final Theory of Everything points to the existence of God -- fell completely flat.  This idea is nothing new; in fact, it was first proposed by Sir James Jeans, a British astrophysicist, in his The Mysterious Universe, published in 1930.  Furthermore, this idea has become increasingly accepted by the scientific community, especially since the 20th-century developments in quantum mechanics, which have revealed the astounding fact that subatomic particles seem to have intention, and that the presence of an observer can alter the outcome of a scientific experiment.  In light of all this, I feel that the surface conflict in this novel loses much of its dramatic impact.  Theodore need not have been made to feel that he had overstepped his bounds as a scientist, since there are scientists today who share his perception of the universe as a mysterious, mystical, as well as beautiful, reality, ultimately grounded in the existence of an omnipotent Creator.

Another, more minor point I found objectionable was the author's detailed description of Theodore's activities in the men's restroom of the hotel.  In other parts of the novel, Katsaropoulos's vividly minute dissection of "ordinary" reality is beautiful in the extreme, and totally captivated me.  I cannot say the same for this restroom passage; indeed, I found it very disgusting, and feel it detracts from the overall, luminous picture presented in the novel.

In spite of the above objections, I greatly enjoyed Antiphony, and definitely recommend it as a captivating look into the mind and soul of a scientific genius who was also a poet and mystic.  Sadly, such people are, for the most part, not seen as valuable in this world of petty, mundane concerns.  Katsaropoulos has brilliantly succeeded in making this clear.

This novel does have a definite air of melancholy to it, as I mentioned above.  Theodore's inner visions and tensions with the outer, scientific community of the research organization he works for, as well as the disconnection from his wife, on all levels, affected me emotionally; I had to put the novel down at times, take a little break, and then return to it.  This was despite the fact that I found it very compelling reading. 

The novel features a deceptively simple interweaving of several distinct, yet interrelated themes; this is precisely one of the things that make it such a fascinating read.  At the deepest level, I believe it can be seen as "a wake-up call" for all of us who become so busy surviving, we forget that there's a whole world of beauty to be discovered in this "reality" we believe to be the only possible one.  At another level, the author seems to be saying that the ascent into poetic mysticism may irrevocably lead to madness, and thus, perhaps such insights are really incompatible with the world as commonly known.  Thus, the novel's message seems to simply underscore the deep paradoxes inherent in existence, as well as consciousness itself.


About the Author

Chris Katsaropoulos is the author of more than a dozen titles, including two novels, Fragile and Antiphony, from Luminis Books.  He has traveled extensively in Europe and North America, and enjoys collecting music and books.  His collection of poetry, Complete Knowing, published by Luminis Books, is coming in Fall, 2014.

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  1. Great commentary Maria on what sounds like a thought provoking and insightful novel.

    I hope that I am not being presumptuous in saying that like myself, it seems that you too are very interested and think a lot about these issues.

    My thoughts on these subjects are complex as are yours. I love these books that dig into issues. As I read books like this I find myself being intellectually stimulated and engaged. Of course, like yourself I experience a mix of agreement and disagreement. I often conclude that some ideas lead to a kind of "that is a way of look at things” that is not really right or wrong.

    For instance, I have been thing lately that there is a trend in modern society, like you allude to above; people get so very wrapped up in reality and day to day existence that they disregard the big picture and big ideas. Where my thoughts seem to diverge from the author is that I find that such lack of thinking and analysis leads many folks to a kind of lazy acceptance of a mysticism, magic and religion that is not carefully examined and uncritically accepted. Of course when I think about, in some ways the opposite is true and as the author seems to be saying, some folks go to the other extreme based upon being too centered in the humdrum here and now. Perhaps both types of behavior are really two sides of the same coin! It is a complex Universe and people are complex creatures. Answers are not so easy!

    The bathroom passage that you describe does seem odd. Sometimes when I think about the grandeur of the Universe, and all the related wonders, I think that within this amazing Universe it seems so strange that there also exist the mundane, the trivial and even the vulgar. Perhaps the author was just to trying convey a sense of this.

  2. Hey, Brian!

    Thank you so much for the compliment! I really enjoy reading books that make me think, like this one did! It's so fascinating when a writer produces a thought-provoking novel, too, instead of going the nonfiction route.

    You're not being presumptuous at all, by the way. I do indeed tend to think a lot about these issues, even if my blog posts don't always reflect What I have to do is to start reading more serious books, whether fiction or nonfiction. The problem is, though, that I'm thoroughly addicted to the Young Adult genre! But I will make a real effort to read more intellectually-challenging books.

    When I first heard about this novel, I was immediately attracted to it, because I do have my doubts and questions about God. Then, when I started reading it, the beautiful prose just blew me away! I've always loved beautiful, poetic prose. Also, I've always been bored with everyday, mundane reality. I long for the world of the poet and the mystic....and feel so let down when I see that most people just don't see things this way.... This is especially true in the corporate world, where you see SO much banality, SO much triviality and pettiness! People are just NOT real -- in the spiritual sense -- in the corporate world. You can never really let your guard down, because you never know if someone is scheming behind your back to get you reprimanded, just so they can get brownie points with the higher-ups.

    Well, I guess, on the other hand, the office is not the perfect place for deep, philosophical discussions.....but heck, you'd think that people would at least have more meaningful conversations when they go out to lunch together, for instance.

    I guess I wish I could live in an artist's colony....sigh....

    Anyway, as you say, extremes at both ends are not good at all. However, I would say I tend to prefer, and lean toward, the poetic, mystical end. It's just that I've always had this deep, spiritual hunger inside. But it's not only a typically religious hunger. I have this deep aesthetic hunger, as well. So, when I read about normally mundane objects and events that are described in a transcendent manner, I feel such's an indescribable feeling.....

    The world definitely needs to have both ends of the spectrum, absolutely! Unfortunately, though, it seems to me that the poet, the mystic, and the artist are frequently denigrated and looked down on, and this infuriates as well as saddens me. It should not that way!

    As for the bathroom section, it was really GROSS. I was shocked and surprised that the author would have described these activities. We all know that they are necessary components of human life, but need we actually dwell on them? UGH. Perhaps the author was trying to say that, since these activities are part of human existence, they, too, should be minutely described. Well, I felt this really detracted from the novel's transcendent beauty. It was one of the reasons I gave the book four instead of five stars!

    Thank you so very much for such a wonderful, thought-provoking comment!! And.....HAPPY ST. PATRICK'S DAY!!!! : )

  3. Your description of your transcendent feelings about the world is indeed something that is worthy of emulation. I have similar feelings though perhaps they may exhibit some differences. I often think of them in terms of the entire evolution and origins of the Universe and everything in it. There is a sense of wonder and awe and even a sense of purpose there for me.

    I was actually not referring to folks who think or evan feel a great deal about spirituality. Rather people who seem to say they believe things that they do not think about or discuss much. They seem to be just going along.

    You know that I have worked in a large corporation for years. I must say that based upon what you say we seem to be one of the different ones. Of course there is some of what you mention. However, we have lots of different types of people as well as a fair sprinkling of really out of the box thinkers and personalities.

    Happy belated St Patricks Day!

  4. Hi, Brian!

    There's definitely SOMETHING, intangible as it may seem, behind, or beyond the reality perceived by the senses. Perhaps it's a world similar to Plato's world of ideas. I'm currently reading a book titled "The Hidden Face of God", whose author, Gerald Schroeder, expresses this in terms of "a hidden wisdom" underlying all things. For instance, when detailing the complex behavior of sub-atomic particles, he marvels at how they act in certain precise ways, as if they KNEW what to do, what procedure to follow next. So your reference to "a sense of purpose", in your comment above, is very much aligned with Schroeder's thoughts.

    When you refer to "people who seem to say they believe things that they do not think about or discuss much", I guess you mean those who simply accept religious ideas or dogmas they have been taught, without analyzing or talking about these things with others, or even researching them. Yes, they do seem to "be just going along". That's how it is when you're brought up in a particular religion, though. You're taught these things from childhood, and believe me, it's not easy to question such things. They really do seem to be part of one's very being. Of course, when a child reaches adulthood, they can then question these beliefs, and perhaps abandon them, should they somehow prove unsatisfactory. Many people don't do this, however. They continue to go along, never questioning, never analyzing.

    So I think it's a minority who does any questioning or analyzing, and it seems to me that people who work for corporations -- whether large or small -- tend to be the type who is content to simply "go along", never analyzing the profound issues of human existence. Certainly "office drones" -- the clerks, the receptionists, etc. tend to be like this. At least, I've seen it to be so, from my own work experience. As for the top executives, all they care about is profit, and how to emerge on top by squelching the competition, by whatever means possible.

    So I agree that people like you and me are not usually to be found in corporations. Lol. But who knows, maybe they're more common than we might think. Maybe there are more such people, but they tend to hide their inner philosophical speculations so others in the office, who are more banally-minded, won't think they're weird...

    Thanks for the compliment, by the way! And thanks for such an interesting comment!! : )


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