ous narrative gifts are likely to follow uprnthe movie with at least a look at thernpages, which are also pretty good andrnwhich also depend on the almost incantatoryrnmagic of repetition and variation,rnset-ups and pay-offs, the rhythm ofrntheme and riff, departure and return. Itrnis a brilliant piece of talking, better byrnfar than My Dinner With Andre, betterrnthan Garrison Keillor’s more self-consciousrnperformances that tended too oftenrnto deteriorate into either sentimentalityrnor mere shtick. Richard Pryor atrnhis best was able to manage somethingrnlike these extended turns, but he was angrierrnand more stand-up comic in traditionrnand intention. Gray is not out forrnlaughs, although he gets them oftenrnenough and is even able to do a quickrnjoke, as when he is describing his firstrnencounter with the Sovetskaia Hotel andrnits endless vistas of red carpeted hallways.rn(“It’s Eloise goes to Moscow!”)rnWhat matters much more is the wry,rnself-deprecating, mildly but always engaginglyrnagonized personality that bindsrntogether these bizarre and disparaternpieces of culture and experience intornsomething that seems very much like arnlife. And what else is there for movies orrnbooks or any other kind of narrative artrn. . . relaxingrnIf you love words, you’ll lovernVERBATIM,rnThe Language QuarterlyrnEach interesting issue containsrninformative, entertaining articles,rnincisive book reviews, livelyrncorrespondence, amusing shortrnbits, and puzzling word games.rnSubscribe now to ensure you receive thernDiamond Jubilee Issue (Winter 199S).rn$16.50 a yearrnI f R P ” R A T I K . . ^ PO’ BOX 78008CRrnV Jd, K JPi 1 i 1 I V l INDNPLS, IN 46278rnThe Language Quarterlyrn(MC/VISA ONLY): 800-999-2266, OPR. 6rnto convey?rnGray is almost naked. He just sitsrnthere and talks. A couple of times hernstands up. There is a musical score comingrnin from time to time, and there arernoccasional sound effects. Ghanges inrncamera angles and cuts provide a kindrnof punctuation so that he can do tworndifferent sides of a conversation andrnmake clear which person is talking. Butrnmostly it’s just him, talking. He is, forrninstance, at a writers’ colony at McDowell,rnup in New Hampshire, in one ofrnthose secluded cabins, and he says, “Irnwrite, I walk, and I drink, and I eat, andrnI walk, and I write, and I write, and Irnwalk, and I drink, and I drink . . .” andrnhe is getting arthritis in his writing hand,rnand he is losing sight in his left eye, andrnwith a book like this, which is about hisrnmother and is, after all, Oedipal, hernthinks, “There goes the first eye.”rnThis is the second of his brilliant toursrnde force. The first was Swimming tornCambodia, which was also a performancernpiece first and then a film. Thisrntime, he has meetings with various producersrnand agents, travels to GentralrnAmerica for Golumbia Pictures, andrngoes to the Mark Taper Forum on anrnNEA grant to do theatrical interviewsrnwith people from Los Angeles who arernnot in the movie business—such peoplernbeing difficult to hnd out there. Butrnthe adventure is never as important asrnthe adventurer, which is what Grayrncounts on. As his alter ego protagonistrnin the novel explains, “We all had funrnas our wonderful summers blended togetherrnin Sakonnct, although I couldrnnever lie on the beach again withoutrnthinking of Bali. Then after a while Irnjust accepted that as part of my life, acceptedrnthat forever I would always be arnlittle bit in the place that I was not, arnlittle bit in my body and a lot in myrnimagination.” When he calls this work arnhuge “solipsistic, narcissistic, self-indulgentrnpile of poop,” he is, obviously, relyingrnon us to disagree with him. Andrneven though we know that we’re beingrnsnookered, we know that he knows thisrntoo, and is apologizing for it. Yet we’rernall having far too good a time to do anythingrnbut what he is counting on. Havingrnbeen so richly entertained for sornlong—there isn’t a dull patch in thisrnwonderful film—it’s the very least werncan do.rnDavid R. Slavitt is a poet and novelistrnliving in Philadelphia.rnReligion as a SocialrnSystemrnby Jacob NeusnerrnTo study any vital religion is to address,rnas a matter of hypothesis, arnstriking example of how people explainrnto themselves who they are as a socialrnentity. Religion as a powerful force inrnhuman culture is realized in society, notrnonly or even mainly in theology. Religionsrnform social entities—churches,rnpeoples, “holy nations,” monasteries, orrncommunities—that, in the concrete,rnconstitute the “us,” as against the “nations”rnor the “them”; and they carefullyrnexplain, in deeds and in words, who thatrn”us” is—every day. To see religion inrnthis way is to take religion seriously as arnmeans of realizing a specific conceptionrnof the world.rnBut how do we describe, analyze, andrninterpret a religion, and how do we relaternthe contents of a religion to its context?rnThese issues of method are workedrnout through the reading of texts and, Irnmaintain, through the serious analysisrnof the particularity and specificity ofrntexts.rnReligion may represent itself as tradition,rnmeaning the increment of the ages.rnIt may also come forth as a cogent statement,rnas a well-crafted set of compellingrnanswers to urgent questions. A religiousrntradition comprises whatever the receivedrnsedimentary process has handedrnon, whereas a religious system addressesrnin orderly fashion a world view, a way ofrnlife, and a defined social entity. Eachrnprocess of thought obeys its own rules.rnFor example, the pentateuehal systemrn50/CHRONICLESrnrnrn