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Review All Things Shining

Review All Things Shining

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Published by Terence Blake

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Categories:Types, Reviews, Book
Published by: Terence Blake on Aug 26, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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ALL THINGS SHINING is an ambitious book, it aims at helping us to find meaning in our lives byway of a philosophically informed reading of some of the great classics of the Western Canon. Itseeks 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,the practice of sport, and readily available literary classics such as THE ODYSSEY, THE DIVINECOMEDY, 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 andSean Kelly, describe as "postmodern", "technological", and "nihlist": a world where the "shiningthings" have been lost, where we are subject to a crushing burden of choice without the guidance of 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 worldof sacred, shining things" (cf. the preamble ), which elicited moods of wonder and reverence andgratitude and openness. This is the explanation of the book's title. However the shining things arenow long gone, 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. Thesolution 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 thenecessity to cultivate a specific skill that can help us discern when we can or should let ourself betaken up in the moods we encounter (example: a nonviolent freedom march) and when we shouldresist and walk away (example: a Nazi rally): this skill they call "meta-poiesis".There is something very attractive about the ideas in this book: the pluralism of understandings of  being, the polytheism of moods , 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 anew postmodern theology, however philosophically distilled and sublimated. Here we can cite thesuggestive slippage from "the shining things", index of a world charged with intensity and meaning,to the more theological sounding "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.A last worry is that with their constant evocation of moods that attune a subject and reveal a worldthe authors seem to be stuck in what Quentin Meillassoux calls the "correlationist circle", unable totalk about the world outside its correlation with subjectivity and with a particular understanding of the world.It seems that Dreyfus and Kelly are aware of this problem and try to undercut their grand narrativeof a succession of incommensurable understandings of being with a different model based onHeidegger's notion of a thing thinging. One example that Dreyfus gives in his lectures is that of thefeast in the film BABETTE'S FEAST, a focal event that assembles or gathers together elements in away that makes them shine, that brings them out at their best. The polytheism of moods would then be reinforced by a pluralism of things thinging, but this is left undeveloped in the book. Another trace of this attempt to maintain the grand narrative and to make room for other ways is the conceptof marginal practices and the things that embody them. One dominant understanding of being isonly a hegemonic rather than a totalitarian paradigm, and each epoch contains many other things,events, practices as marginal phenomena. This model has the further advantage of making changeconceivable.The other concept that merits developing is the notion of 
which allows us to navigate between different moods and different understandings, tracing out our own individual path. As such,

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