The New York Times
All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Ageby Hubert Dreyfus, Sean Dorrance Kelly
In unrelenting flow of choices confronts us at nearly every moment of our lives, and yet our culture offers us no clear way to choose. This predicament seems inevitable, but in fact it’s quite new. In medieval Europe, God’s calling was a grounding force. In ancient Greece, a whole pantheon of shining gods stood ready to draw an appropriate action out of… See more details below
In unrelenting flow of choices confronts us at nearly every moment of our lives, and yet our culture offers us no clear way to choose. This predicament seems inevitable, but in fact it’s quite new. In medieval Europe, God’s calling was a grounding force. In ancient Greece, a whole pantheon of shining gods stood ready to draw an appropriate action out of you. Like an athlete in “the zone,” you were called to a harmonious attunement with the world, so absorbed in it that you couldn’t make a “wrong” choice. If our culture no longer takes for granted a belief in God, can we nevertheless get in touch with the Homeric moods of wonder and gratitude, and be guided by the meanings they reveal? All Things Shining says we can.
Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly illuminate some of the greatest works of the West to reveal how we have lost our passionate engagement with and responsiveness to the world. Their journey takes us from the wonder and openness of Homer’s polytheism to the monotheism of Dante; from the autonomy of Kant to the multiple worlds of Melville; and, finally, to the spiritual difficulties evoked by modern authors such as David Foster Wallace and Elizabeth Gilbert.
Dreyfus, a philosopher at the University of California, Berkeley, for forty years, is an original thinker who finds in the classic texts of our culture a new relevance for people’s everyday lives. His lively, thought-provoking lectures have earned him a podcast audience that often reaches the iTunesU Top 40. Kelly, chair of the philosophy department at Harvard University, is an eloquent new voice whose sensitivity to the sadness of the culture—and to what remains of the wonder and gratitude that could chase it away—captures a generation adrift.
Re-envisioning modern spiritual life through their examination of literature, philosophy, and religious testimony, Dreyfus and Kelly unearth ancient sources of meaning, and teach us how to rediscover the sacred, shining things that surround us every day. This book will change the way we understand our culture, our history, our sacred practices, and ourselves. It offers a new—and very old—way to celebrate and be grateful for our existence in the modern world.
The New York Times
The New York Times Book Review
“Offers a meditation on the meaning of life, in a sharp, engaging style …” New York Times Book Review
Two distinguished professors seek mankind's salvation in the ancient Greek gods.
At first glance, this book would seem to be a rebuttal of the spate of arguments for atheism, and a ringing defense of polytheism, or an academic version of a self-help book, showing how to live a richer, more meaningful life by returning to precepts that preceded individual autonomy. In fact, Dreyfus (Philosophy/Univ. of California, Berkeley; On the Internet, 2001, etc.) and Kelly (Philosophy/Harvard Univ.) audaciously promise "nothing less than a philosophical and literary history of the West" in little more than 200 pages, aimed at the "nonspecialist audience" and "general reader." The authors successfully leapfrog through literary-philosophical history to suggest how we can reclaim redemptive qualities sacrificed to modernity. "When we develop in ourselves the ability for this kind of wonder and gratitude then we become a standing invitation to the gods," they write, asserting that one need not believe in those gods to recognize that one's feelings and fate are often shaped by forces outside the self and that there are limits to individual freedom and responsibility. In response to a metaphysical debate framed by Pulp Fiction, the authors write that "[t]he question that really matters...is not whether God was the causal agent but whether gratitude was an appropriate response." In other examples, Dreyfus and Kelly explore meaning (or the nihilism of meaninglessness) in the suicide of David Foster Wallace, the throwing problems of former baseball star Chuck Knoblauch and the rejection by Martin Luther of Aristotle. The book's wide scope is occasionally exasperating in its concision—"But before we move on to Descartes and Kant we will have to make a detour by way of St. Thomas Aquinas and Dante, who draw on Aristotle rather than Plato to make Christianity intelligible in Greek terms"—but the end result, detours and all, suggests a road map to the divine.
A provocative, illuminating and inspirational exhortation to "Ask not why the gods have abandoned you, but why you have abandoned the gods."
- Free Press
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A NOTE TO THE READER
THE WORLD DOESN’T MATTER to us the way it used to. The intense and meaningful lives of Homer’s Greeks, and the grand hierarchy of meaning that structured Dante’s medieval Christian world, both stand in stark contrast to our secular age. The world used to be, in its various forms, a world of sacred, shining things. The shining things now seem far away. This book is intended to bring them close once more.
The issues motivating our story are philosophical and literary, and we come at them from our professional background in these disciplines. But All Things Shining is intended for a nonspecialist audience, and we hope it will speak to a wide range of people. Anyone who lives in the contemporary world has the background to read it, and anyone who hopes to enrich his or her life by experiencing it in the light of classic philosophical and literary works can hope to find something here. Anyone who wants to lure back the shining things, to uncover the wonder we were once capable of experiencing and to reveal a world that sometimes calls forth such a mood; anyone who is done with indecision and waiting, with expressionlessness and lostness and sadness and angst, and who is ready for whatever it is that comes next; anyone with hope instead of despair, or anyone with despair that they would like to leave behind, can find something worthwhile in the pages ahead. Or at least that is what we intend.
© 2011 Hubert Dreyfus
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