Monday, July 25, 2011

All Things Shining

More than occasionally, one comes across a review that makes one disinclined to read the book under consideration. Such is the case of Robert M. Wallace’s review of Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly's All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age (TLS, 7/8/11). Dreyfus and Kelly teach philosophy at Berkeley and at Harvard, respectively, and Gary Wills’s earlier critical review in The New York Review of Books has already initiated a spirited back and forth in the letters column of that journal. Here is how Wallace describes the book: “Dreyfus and Kelly share Friedrich Nietzsche’s view that the central error in Western thought was the turn to monotheism. Associated with this turn is the broadly Platonic tradition in philosophy including St. Augustine, Rene Descartes and Immanuel Kant, who all give a central role to intellectual abstraction. These two traits result in separating us from ‘the shining things.’” In answer to the question, what are “the shining things?” the reviewer tells us, “This book is about ecstasy, which the authors refer to metaphorically as ‘shining” or ‘whooshing up.’” The world that Dreyfus and Kelly seem to want to renew is one in which there were heroes who stood between men and gods. Literary creations like Odysseus exemplify the kind of grand engagement that mankind is now missing. Perhaps it’s something that the early Christians had, the yearning after which accounts for the popularity of a book like Elaine Pagels’s The Gnostic Gospels. Hallucinogens, fascism and the cult of Jim Jones have provided transcendence for some. Words like  “shining” and “whooshing” can be red flags for those who believe that the highest aspiration of consciousness resides in the ideal of responsibility for the self. Isn’t there enough historical precedent to convince us that ecstasy is a dubious proposition/aspiration, and one that is often purchased at the price of reality?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.