Reviewer James Broderick, Ph.D: James is an associate professor of English and journalism at New Jersey City University. A former newspaper reporter and editor, he is the author of six non-fiction books, and the novel Stalked. His latest book is Greatness Thrust Upon Them, a collection of interviews with Shakespearean actors across America. Follow Here To Listen To An Interview With James Broderick.
Author: Ronald GreenPublisher: iff Books
Author: Ronald GreenPublisher: iff Books
OK, let me first dispense with the clever-sounding puns that came to me as I was preparing to write this review: “This book is like nothing you’ve ever read”; “After reading this book, I’ve got nothing to talk about”: or, simply, “Prepare for a whole lot of nothing.”
But Ronald Green’s book, Nothing Matters: A Book About Nothing, deserves far better and more serious treatment than cheap wordplay and snarky one-liners. Green has rendered in print a remarkably comprehensive guided tour of the historically rich, multi-faceted world of nothing. The breadth of argument he offers in this treatise on nothing is breathtaking. I had probably given nothing as little thought as most people so I was a perfect target for Green’s null encomium. I realize now that the author was perhaps right in his initially absurd-sounding claim that “nothing” is the foundation for everything – from religion to literature, physics to philosophy. Whole lot of nothing indeed.
Green, whom the book jacket refers to as “the ultimate researcher and delver,” has really written four books here, each dealing with a different aspect of nothing (not to be confused with “nothingness,” which he makes clear is quite a different condition).
Part one deals with the historically fraught relationship between “zero” and “nothing,” a tense and misunderstood alliance whose friction can be credited to intransigence on the part of the Catholic Church, which equated the numeral zero with the concept of nothing, thus making zero – and its proponents – persona non grata. You see, “nothing” simply can’t exist as a codified concept, the church argued, because God is always present, and he is always something (the ultimate something, to believers), and therefore zero/nothing represents a heretical stance toward the omnipresence of the almighty. Zero was therefore stamped out of existence by the Church fathers for more than 500 years in the Western World (though it flourished among Muslim mathematicians).
Part two deals with art and its attempts to portray “nothing” in painting, music, and literature. Green’s survey of artists who’ve felt compelled to nail down nothing as their subject reads like a Who’s Who of modern culture (writers Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, musician John Cage, painter Martin Creed, et al.). The problem they all face, Green points out, is that by painting, writing, or composing music, the very idea of nothing is transformed into something. It is no longer nothing. It’s very definitely something, even if it is a blank canvas or a silent composition (there are, after all, instructions to the musician about how long the silence should last, and under what conditions, etc.) Yet artists continue trying to capture the concept of nothing through their art.
Parts three and four are related: “Believing in Nothing” and “Thinking about Nothing.” The former address the role that “nothing” has played in the various creation myths of world religions and the latter looks at how philosophers have driven themselves (and their followers) crazy trying to prove the existence of something that has no defined existence.
For the most part, Green writes in an accessible style, but occasionally even he is done in by the circular, almost comic complexity of his subject matter. To wit: “Nothing is an enigma. Since nothing is the absence of everything, anything at all would stop nothing from being nothing. Or to put it another way: anything makes nothing something. And let’s go for another mind-cruncher: Nothing is where everything is not.”
I see. I believe I will have that drink now.
Green’s book is a worthy read for those willing to open their minds to a new way of thinking about the sum and substance of our existence. It’s as enlightening as it is challenging. On behalf of readers everywhere – and at the risk of seeming ungrateful – I’d like to say to Mr. Green: Thanks for nothing.
Click Here To Purchase Nothing Matters: a book about nothing