ALL THINGS SHINING: the discussion continues

There is a new interview with Sean Kelly here. I limited my comments to an updated version of my book review, which I reproduce below

ALL THINGS SHINING is an ambitious book, it aims at helping us to find meaning in our lives by way of a philosophically informed reading of some of the great classics of the Western Canon. It seeks to address a popular audience rather than a professional one: it has its roots in Heideggerian philosophy but the style is not that of academic prose and it uses examples taken from news items, sport, and readily available literary classics such as THE ODYSSEY, THE DIVINE COMEDY, and MOBY DICK. It can be read without any major difficulty and with a great deal of pleasure, but it has the ambition of addressing the grand question of the search for meaning and for a life worth living in our contemporary world. This is a world that the authors, Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Kelly, describe as « postmodern », « technological », and « nihlist »: a world where the « shining things » have been lost, where we are subject to a crushing burden of choice without an unquestioned framework of meaning, such as served as a foundation for life and its meaning in previous epochs.

According to these authors the world was formerly a world full of intensity and meaning, « a world of sacred, shining things » (cf the preamble ), which elicited moods of wonder and reverence and gratitude and openness. However the shining things are now far, and life has become permeated with moods of sadness and lostness, a purely personal affair to be managed by the plans and choices of the closed-off « autonomous » ego. This is the explanation of the book’s title. The solution proposed is a reappropriation of Homer’s polytheism, now understood to be a polytheism of moods, such as we can see the outlines of in MOBY DICK. An important part of this response is the necessity to cultivate a specific skill that can help us discern when we can or should let ourself be taken up in the moods we encounter and when we should resist and walk away: this skill they call « meta-poiesis ».

There is something very attractive about the ideas in this book: the pluralism of moods (« polytheism »), meta-poiesis, a subjectivity of openness to the world and wonder at its shining things. But there are ambiguities that make one wonder (in the other sense of wonder) whether the book avoids the trap of romantic nostalgia. Its vocabulary is often nostalgic: « lure back » the gods, « uncover » the wonder, « reveal » the world. Also there is the danger of proposing merely a postmodern theology, however philosophically distilled and sublimated. Here we can cite the suggestive slippage from « the shining things », index of a world charged with intensity and meaning, to the « sacred things », as if that were the same thing. But surely a life based on intensities, on moods and on meaning without any reference to the sacred is worth living.
On my blog AGENT SWARM
I have been commenting on the book ALL THINGS SHINING by Dreyfus and Kelly and their related lectures for over a year now. As I said, I like the pluralism of ATS and its analysis of incommensurabilities and its polytheism of moods, but I think it has a one-sided view of intensities or what they call « shining », that excludes both the ordinary and the « dark » intensities. All this talk of « shining » (really as pluralists they should say « shinings ») is somehow limited to best case scenarios, when shining is not, or should not be, a normative notion. One could compare this with Deleuze and Guattari’s cry in ANTI-OEDIPUS:

« Everything must be interpreted in intensity » (p173)

For Deleuze and Guattari this is already what Nietzsche and Artaud were doing. So I was glad to come across the blog
which uses Artaud to illustrate shining, and Nietzsche to illustrate post-nihilist affirmation.
As to Nietzsche I think that the fellow-pluralist William Connolly said it all in an article on Nietzsche (« Nietzsche, Democracy, and Time »). Connolly associates Nietzsche with an ethic of cultivation (meta-poiesis!), non-theistic gratitude, multidimensional pluralism, « nobility as multiple nobilities » (and not the Nazi deformation of Nietzsche’s thought as promoting a warrior ethic), and even « modesty as strength ».
In conclusion, I think the book is essential reading and I hope the discussion can deepen, intensify, and extend the dialogue that it contributes to.

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Un commentaire pour ALL THINGS SHINING: the discussion continues

  1. dmf dit :

    well done, someday I’ll find a copy of Connolly’s book to read I have enjoyed his videoed lectures.


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