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Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self (The Terry Lectures Series) Paperback – June 28, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Robinson's new nonfiction work is drawn from her 2009 Terry lectures at Yale. More precisely, they are "lectures on religion in the light of science and philosophy." The charge is ambitious, and Robinson brings to the task a suitably wide-ranging perspective. She takes aim at the modern scholarly propensity to debunk, a practice she calls "flawed learnedness." It pitches out the babies of human insight with the bathwater of the past, preferring what she calls "parascience," a kind of pseudoscience that prizes certainty. This "parascience" is a latecomer in human thought, the product of only the last 150 years or so. Because it closes off questions, it's not even scientific. Nor does it allow space for the human mind and all the mind has produced in history and civilization. This is heady stuff that will particularly appeal to those familiar with the history of ideas and the many thinkers she cites, and to anyone willing to ponder broadly and humanistically about imponderable matters. Those who savor Robinson's clear prose will also be gratified; her mind, in thought, is elegant.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"'Robinson makes the case with exceptional elegance and authority - the authority not only of one of the unmistakably great novelists of the age but of a clear and logical mind that is wholly intolerant of intellectual cliche... This book has a greater density (and sophistication) of argument than many three times its length; but it is one of the most significant contributions yet to the current quarrels about faith, science and rationality.' (Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, Daily Telegraph) 'I'm enjoying arguing and agreeing with Marilynne Robinson's Absence of Mind.' (Zadie Smith, The Observer) 'Robinson's argument is prophetic, profound, eloquent, succinct, powerful and timely.' (Karen Armstrong, The Guardian) 'I have barely scratched the surface of this dense and yet endlessly entertaining little book. Marilynne Robinson is herself the best evidence of her own thesis - the exceptional mystery of the human mind'. (Bryan Appleyard, Literary Review) 'I enjoyed reading Absence of Mind. The reason: it is always a pleasure to keep company with a person who takes ideas seriously.' (Siri Hustvedt, Financial Times) 'Robinson is one of the greatest Christian thinkers alive today... Absence of Mind is a slim but compelling volume.' (Luke Coppen, Catholic Herald)"
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Product Details

  • Series: The Terry Lectures Series
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (June 28, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300171471
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300171471
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #158,071 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Marilynne Robinson is the author of the bestselling novels "Lila," "Home" (winner of the Orange Prize), "Gilead" (winner of the Pulitzer Prize), and "Housekeeping" (winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award).

She has also written four books of nonfiction, "When I Was a Child I Read Books," "Absence of Mind," "Mother Country" and "The Death of Adam." She teaches at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop.

She has been given honorary degrees from Brown University, the University of the South, Holy Cross, Notre Dame, Amherst, Skidmore, and Oxford University. She was also elected a fellow of Mansfield College, Oxford University.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

109 of 132 people found the following review helpful By R. Taggart on April 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In quintessential Robinsonian non-fiction style (intelligent, well-read, affirmative, sarcastic), Marilynne Robinson refutes an atheism which posits itself as scientific. The book is not a vindication of religion or of theology, per se, but rather a rejection of what Robinson calls the "parascientific" nature of writings which seek to deny much of human experience. It is an affirmation of the complexity of the mind and of existence. My least favorite chapter was "The Freudian Self," but it was insightful in its own right. "The Strange History of Altruism" and "Thinking Again" were both very good. Fans of Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett will find something worth considering in this tendentious yet radiant prose.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Il'ja Rákoš on November 30, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Why do I get the feeling that, despite her calm exterior, Marilynne Robinson positively revels in her role as the one who would constantly - to misquote the Apostle Luke as rendered in the King's English - "kick against the pricks." (Acts 9:5)

What a great soul, great heart, and great mind this woman is. Frankly, it feels a little odd to be critiquing her in an Amazon review, yet here we are. Briefly, in these lectures, Mrs. Robinson takes on what she views as contemporary disregard for the soul, the felt life, the antiquities, and their importance to a balanced view of culture and history. In other words, she states a good case on behalf of just about anything that a quasi-empirical, western academia is attempting to marginalize, or failing that, simply choosing to ignore in order to justify the prescriptive, and often narrowly defined subtexts of "objectivity" and "skepticism" under which it labors. So that was a horrible sentence.

In other words, why can I not shake the feeling that it was only after hearing this lecture from Mrs. Robinson that Richard Dawkins stopped calling himself an atheist? Simply put: she addresses the odd, and mostly recent, inclination of academicians in the hard sciences to wander outside their areas of specialization to speculate on matters that don't fit their expertise. Biologists, resolute in their dedication to what is measurable, suddenly commenting on God. Linguists who chime in on 'delusional' people of faith, though the linguists don't seem to know anything about the context, culture, or the texts from which that faith is drawn.
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67 of 85 people found the following review helpful By David Cook on June 27, 2010
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It could be argued that like the American constitution, Culture relies for it's checks and balances on three branches: science, the humanities, and religion. Unbalanced, religion falters into inquisitions and holy wars; science, into eugenics and bell curves; the humanities, into übermenchen and madmen. As Aristotle's virtues rested in moderation, as Buddhism clings to the middle way, so must Culture find and maintain its equilibrium. At present, however, this equilibrium is disturbed. While hard science transforms matter into miracles, soft science maligns philosophy and religion, transforming the miracle of mind into matter if not dust, banishing the supernatural while highlighting the unnatural--the twentieth century having witnessed the ultimate flourishing of unnatural death to date.

ABSENCE OF MIND: the Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self by Pulitzer prize-winning author Marilynne Robinson provides a thoughtful case helping to restore cultural balance. She coins parascience to describe the theories of "self-declared rationalists" spreading the gospel of "objectivity" to reduce people into objects. The reasoning of her polemic is acute as she vivisects arguments to sweep aside the cultural wonders of consciousness and the human mind. She ridicules "the assumption that humankind is itself fearful, irrational, deluded and self-deceived, excepting, of course these missionaries of enlightenment [the parascientists themselves]." Always brilliant, Robinson is at times ironic, at times laugh-aloud funny. Her wit, intelligence and incisiveness seriously contest the notion that those disguising themselves in the wool of science have any monopoly on reason, logic or truth.
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82 of 106 people found the following review helpful By Ben B. Barnes on May 11, 2010
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This little volume by an accomplished novelist ("Gilead," "Housekeeping," "Home") is her erudite and intriguing venture into philosophy and metaphysics, taking the Good Housekeeping broom to the likes of Freud and Nietzsche while seeming to be cautiously protective of spirituality in general, Descartes and Jung in particular.

The work, published by Yale Press, consists of four loosely coupled essays, any one of which can stand alone, titled "On Human Nature," "The Strange History of Altruism," "The Freudian Self," and "Thinking Again."

In attempting to find a pithy phrase to convey the thrust of Robinson's work, I am of necessity reduced to oversimplification. Suffice it to say she agrees with the position which I believe has been stated repeatedly and effectively by Professor Seale, that science is only a tool which we use to chip away at the shadows, never an end or a solution in itself.

One of Robinson's paragraphs may replace Mark Twain's account of Tom whitewashing the fence as my favorite ever. From "Thinking Again:"

". . . What is man? One answer on offer is, An organism whose haunting questions perhaps ought not to be meaningful to the organ that generates them, lacking as it is in any means of "solving" them. Another answer might be, It is still too soon to tell. We might be the creature who brings life on this planet to an end, and we might be the creature who awakens to the privileges that inhere in our nature - selfhood, consciousness, even our biologically anomalous craving for "the truth" - and enjoys and enhances them. Mysteriously, neither possibility precludes the other. . . ."
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