e-mail us


Grim title hides dynamic view of societies’ core problem


By David Toole
Westview Press, 448 pages, $32


Though not intended, there is a profound irony in David Toole’s first book. It lies within the enormous gap between a title so uninviting and content that is so outstanding. A title that starts with Beckett (no cheery evening there) continues with Sarajevo, and ends with nihilism, tragedy and apocalypse clearly fails basic marketing -- maybe intentionally.

The work itself is so dynamic and compelling that it has the potential to get many people reading, and enjoying, a philosophical and theological approach to subjects we would rather stay away from. Such an accomplishment should not be easily dismissed. Given the intellectual terrain, the book’s accessibility is nothing short of remarkable: It is a must-read for graduate school seminars and every college-educated Christian.

Toole’s book is a major contribution to a world struggling, and failing, to reconcile the fundamental tenets of Christianity with a modernized -- some would say post-modernized -- materialist and secular world. Toole’s book is tragically timely as well. Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo is an important intervention (and alternative) to the cycle of crisis and punditry that our media-saturated society has devolved into. Rather than situation-specific, Toole’s work begins at the core problem upon which societies uneasily perch themselves as solutions: the meaninglessness of reality.

Toole is not the first to demonstrate that our technological sophistication and elaborate social rituals are only vain attempts to distance ourselves from a world that stubbornly resists giving the answer to existence. He is, however, able to make questioning these systems the domain of every Christian and not the privileged purview of the academic. Indeed, his discussion of the philosophical work of Freidrich Nietzsche is not only the clearest summary available, but also the most nuanced (though admittedly, the book’s one weakness is that the Nietzsche discussion threatens to overwhelm it at points). Upon this alone an intellectual could retire. Toole goes even further and provides the clearest explication to date on the writings of Michel Foucault, the problematic French historian.

Most important, these discussions are not done for their own sake, or as part of some historical review of philosophy. Toole gives his readers good cause to be pursuing these ideas, examining these philosophers thematically: as part of a provocative analysis of the philosophical underpinnings that ground our more dominant and invisible ideologies, and as a search for alternatives to our current politics of nihilism.

In positing Christianity as the most cogent and coherent alternative, Toole takes a very poetic and eclectic approach, weaving together philosophy, cultural commentary, theology and short fiction. He vividly portrays how the difficult answers Christianity provides are made possible by the powerful transcendence engendered in Christ’s love and example. Though not intentional, Toole’s work demonstrates why New Age alternatives and secular humanism are so popular: The love at stake in Christianity cannot be extricated from trial, struggle and sacrifice.

Christianity promises the way of the cross for everyone who wants to follow -- a fate we would all like to sidestep. Toole demonstrates, however, that Christianity does not end with a tragic formula, but an apocalyptic one -- and in the process, rescues the latter term from the connotations heaped upon it by rightwing fundamentalism.

Toole reintroduces the apocalyptic as an important but neglected dimension to which our discipleship can (must) aspire if the world is to be saved from the failures of the 20th century. Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo provides the means to reclaim a silenced but integral part of Christian spirituality.

Vincent F. Rocchio is a media scholar and independent filmmaker. His book, Cinema of Anxiety: A Psychoanalysis of Italian Neorealism, is published by the University of Texas Press.

National Catholic Reporter, December 17, 1999