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Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation 3/31/08 Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674027466
ISBN-10: 0674027469
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Scholar and author Lear (Therapeutic Action: An Earnest Plea for Irony) decodes the courage and wisdom of the last great chief of the Crow peoples, Plenty Coups (1848-1932), in this "philosophical anthropology" which seeks to pin down the way societies-and the individuals who lead them-carry on in the face of "cultural catastrophe." As a jumping-off point, Lear uses a quote from Plenty Coups's oral history, given to Frank B. Linderman shortly before the chief's death: "But when the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground... After this nothing happened." The first part of the book explores the meaning of "nothing happened," explicating the idea that history itself comes to an end when the concepts a culture uses to define its world-in this case, concepts tied to hunting, battle, and honor-become obsolete. The second part tackles "Ethics at the Horizon," the possibilities for "radical hope" in the face of inconceivable cultural change through courage, wisdom and flexibility, on both a personal and cultural level. The third part discusses the ramifications of "radical hope," both practically and philosophically. Lear's study is probably too rigorous rhetorically to appeal to a wide audience, and his insistence that "we live at a time of a heightened sense that civilizations are themselves vulnerable" could have been supported with some explicit contemporary parallels, but for those interested in the final years of the Crow nation or the ethical challenges faced by victims of cultural destruction, this book will prove enlightening.
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.

From Booklist

Lear, a psychoanalyst and professor of philosophy, delves into what he calls the "blind spot" of any culture: the inability to conceive of its own devastation. He molds his thoughts around a poignant historical model, the decimated nation of Crow Indians in the early decades of the twentieth century. The last Crow chief, Plenty Coups, told his white friend and biographer, Frank B. Linderman, about what happened to his people "when the buffalo went away." They were despondent, and in Plenty Coups' words, "After this nothing happened." Lear dissects this phenomenon, and the Crows' struggle for continued survival, in a highly esoteric discussion drawing on the writings of Aristotle, Plato, and other philosophers. What makes this discussion relevant to mainstream readers is his application of the blind-spot hypothesis to the present, in which the twenty-first century was ushered in by terrorist attacks, social upheavals, and natural catastrophes, leaving us with "an uncanny sense of menace" and a heightened perception of how vulnerable our civilizations are to destruction, as was the Crow's. Deborah Donovan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 3/31/08 edition (April 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674027469
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674027466
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #267,440 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Alastair N. Mcleod on April 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a psychoanalyst's philosophical meditations on the words and experience of the last great chief of the Crow, Plenty Coups, a man who witnessed the complete erasure of the culture that formed him, and whose virtues he exemplified. The book is not completely satisfying. It seems unnecessarily repetitious and wordy at times. It seems to promise a tale of psychological and moral triumph, but to fulfill that promise ambiguously. Nevertheless, it provides a penetrating analysis of what one might call paradigm collapse and the suffering of the individuals who experience it. Courage is the core virtue necessary to one's survival of such damage, but, as Charles Taylor, writing in The New York Review of Books, explains more lucidly than I can, this is a special kind of courage, the courage to hope for a future good that cannot yet be conceived. As our society, and indeed societies around the globe, are facing partial or complete collapses of the assumptions that frame the experiences of their members, these ideas will have an immediate personal significance to the reader who understands that the rules of the game are changing, and that he must change too, or perish.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Radical hope explores the question of how cultures, in this study the Crow Tribe, respond to the one situation that cultures are incapable of imagining, the demise of the core culture. The Crow were dependent of buffalo hunting and personal warriorship against their rivials the Sioux (Lakota) and Cheyenne. With the near extinction of the buffalo and the collapse of traditional life on the plains, Crow culture evolved to total irrelevancy overnight. This book focuses on the life of the last great Crow Chief Plenty Coups, who said that after the demise of the buffalo "nothing happened". This is the void that engulfed Crow culture in the last decades of the 19th century.

Radical Hope is a detailed exploration of the ultimate chaos that can afflict cultures when they quickly collapse from external pressures. This book shows how insight and the use of traditional problem solving provided Crow leadership with a pathway to re-establishing themselves in this most challenging of circumstances.

This book is highly recommended to those people fascinated with how culture institutions respond to crippling challenges and how hope can emerge in the bleakest of circumstances.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In a time when any and everything can be pulled out from under one due to devastating political and cultural de-evolution, a growing and decadent mass media driven delusion and the bulk of wealth being in the hands of a small percentage of soulless idiots, this book offers an "a way."
At time when one might be tempted, like many Native American tribes were, to lament the past and vainly attempt to bring it back through the sad but hopeful ritual of the Ghost Dance (instead we listen to the Oldies Radio while media encourages us to celebrate some anniversary of some event that had meaning rather than helping us give meaning to current events).
It offers a vision of how a person, a culture and humanity itself can keep what is valuable and authentic from one's past and one's culture while navigating chaotic upheaval.
It's about keeping one's humanity intact in dehumanizing times and both keeping and building a personal and cultural integrity that endures.
So, if you have been a victim of mortgage lenders, student loan rip-offs, downsizing, corporate greed, credit card companies or the crisis in our lack of a health care system, this book lets you know that it just something you're going through.
It helps you become active rather than passive in your emotional and philosophical response. So, instead of feeling like a sitting duck, you begin to feel like someone facing challenges and helping others do the same.
Enduring and radical hope eventually trumps the temporal power of any oppressive junta in a way they cannot see coming.
At the same time, it builds heart, soul and culture.
This book has come at a good time.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is not a "review" so much as a note of appreciation for something the author accomplishes in this book which may not be immediately apparent. In pointing it out, I hope to inspire other readers to a similar appreciation.

We speak of "sounding the depths" but rarely is this act accomplished with sustained attention to any given utterance. But this is a singular accomplishment of Jonathan Lear in this book. Focusing attention on the utterances of the last great chief of the Crow Indians, Plenty Coups--utterances that have their focal point in the dramatic and enigmatic statement that "the buffalo went away...after this nothing happened"--Lear sounds the depths of Plenty Coup's voice through interpretive questioning both within and beyond it's crumbling cultural context as well as from the perspectives gleaned through a wide range of thought-traditions. But all of this is done while sustaining respect for the particular person in his particular life circumstances. In this sounding, then, we have the rare opportunity to witness a deep listener listening...without getting lost in his listening.

Of course, detractors might point out that the author's analysis is based on reading rather than listening. But I suggest the monastic practice of lectio divina --a practice of deep reading for the sake of recovering the voice, that is, a reading that is transformed into a listening--is a closer description of the kind of receptivity Lear is engaged in here.

It is this respect for the primacy of the life that is lived beyond any interpretation that can be brought to bear upon it which is a hallmark of the primary traditions out of which Lear works--philosophical anthropology and psychoanalysis.
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