I came across this on the internet - a judgement that has long needed delivering on Khalil Gibran's The Prophet. "Is Gibran important, even sociologically?" asks the author: "He is not as popular as he was during the 1960s and 1970s, perhaps, but when I last looked, The Prophet still came in as the 700th most sold book on Amazon." (And for the record, I was given a copy recently by a friend.)
[...] Now it is true that The Prophet was first published in 1923, that is to say well before Auschwitz, but even by 1923 it was pretty clear that many men had walked firmly to their goals, but that their goals were not good, quite the reverse in fact, and that therefore something other than a decisive tread was required if one were to lead the moral life. Gibran’s message seems to boil down to the goodness of doing exactly what you please, so long as it really and genuinely pleases you, and you do it wholeheartedly. This was a message that millions wanted to hear, especially after all the catastrophes of the first half of the twentieth century. Compared with Gibran’s philosophy, if that is not too strong a word for his concatenation of unctuous sentiment, putting Prozac in the water supply would be a subtle means of procuring universal happiness.
Of evil we get not a word. It is an unpleasant subject, so Gibran doesn’t think, or emote, about it, oleaginously sliding past it. One the day after I read The Prophet for the second time (to make sure I hadn’t missed something), I examined a woman for the courts who was charged with a relatively minor offense, and who described the conduct of her father during her childhood. She would stop her ears at night to prevent the screams of her mother or sisters from reaching them. Her father would demand of her sister that she come home by a certain time at night, and then put the clocks forward to give him a pretext to throw her around the room, hurling her from wall to wall. I do not think my informant had the imagination to make it up; besides, I have heard of such things a thousand, ten thousand, times.
What illumination does Gibran bring to this, what does he tell us about this aspect of the human condition that was soon to become of such incalculable historical importance? That the brutal father had a longing for his giant self, and was therefore all right because we are all all right, so everything is all right, ex officio, as it were? Gibran can’t tell us anything worthwhile about Mother Teresa, let alone about Adolf Hitler, et al.
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