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On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs: Teaching, Writing, Playing, Believing, Lecturing, Philosophizing, Singing, Dancing Hardcover – October 1, 2001


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 189 pages
  • Publisher: Intercollegiate Studies Institute (October 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1882926633
  • ISBN-13: 978-1882926633
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #640,396 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Although Schall's title might seem to promise a romp through the Elysian Fields with Epicurus and Nietzsche, nothing could be further from the truth. Recruiting philosophy and literary theory into an inspirational narrative, Father Schall (A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning), who teaches at Georgetown University, contends that "unseriousness" derives from the realization that while humankind is not the highest thing in existence, human beings are good. Humanity's joy, then, comes in its celebration of being-in-the-world; those enjoyable activities, which might seem like wasting time, are in fact related to "our transcendent destiny," our spirituality. Taking passages from Plato, Augustine, Aquinas, Dante and Chesterton, Schall argues that our lives have a particular gravity, but that they are unserious compared to the seriousness of God. Our lives are merely, then, responses to an order that exists beyond us, and Schall demonstrates through readings of philosophers ranging from Aristotle to Peanuts' Charlie Brown that various unserious behaviors playing, dancing, singing, writing provide the skills to connect to that transcendent order. For example, he observes that "[e]ssays keep us alert to the wonder of things," and "[l]etters keep us in touch when we are not literally before those whom we would see face to face." Schall weaves together his meditations with theological interludes in which he explores briefly such topics as redemption, salvation and eschatology. Although these reflections do not break any new ground or open up any radically different channels of discussion, Schall's book will appeal to fans of C.S. Lewis, Chesterton and Peter Kreeft.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Letters and essays are Schall's favorite reading, and the leisurely concentration characteristic of those forms distinguishes his own writings, which both entrance and infuriate. What is entrancing about them stems from the religiously informed perspective suggested by the book's title--that the most human actions (see the subtitle) aren't necessary but recreational--and from Schall's citing and reciting of ideas that his career as a teacher has verified, such as the observation of Saint-Exupery's Little Prince that the only time that counts is the time we "waste" with friends. His essays infuriate when they don't seem to come to the point; "On the Teaching of Political Philosophy," for instance, Schall talks little about statecraft but much about ascertaining the truth--the object of philosophy per se. They also infuriate by recommending self-discipline, rejecting moral relativism, holding with Samuel Johnson that the highest truths "are too important to be new," and taking other positions that bespeak Schall's status as a priest as well as a professor. On the other hand, they delight for the same reasons. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on February 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover
On The Unseriousness Of Human Affairs by James Schall is an impressive treatise revealing how such sometimes considered "useless" activities such as singing, dancing, playing, and contemplating, are in fact the core and basis for flourishing human culture and society. Indeed, this seemingly unpractical pastimes embody and reflect the very nature of human aspirations and enduring achievements. Schall draws upon such diverse representations as Aristotle, Samuel Johnson, and cartoon character Charlie Brown to document and showcase a significant countercultural message that such pursuits are in the best interest of human society as a whole, and individual men and women in the course of their personal lives. On The Unseriousness Of Human Affairs is an enthusiastically recommended contribution to the study of contemporary philosophy and welcome reading for anyone with an interest in the nature and relevance of the arts to the quality and substance of human life.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Gerald J. Nora on January 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The Unseriousness of Human Affairs is a title almost certainly written to give the modern reader a jolt-what, is not everything I work for pretty serious? Our country, my job, my family, these are not serious?
Prof. Schall shows us how leisure and play is in fact crucial to our nature as human beings, that our learning and growth develops through something that is spontaneous, as he demonstrates by pointing out that the Greek and Latin terms for school (skole and otium, respectively) can also mean "leisure". So begins an intellectual romp that includes Jesus, Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Aquinas and G.K. Chesterton along with some more unlikely companions, like Robert Pirsig's _Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance_ (good book, by the way), Charlie Brown, and Friederich Nietzsche. The latter, while a powerful voice in his own right, is not someone you would expect a rather cheerful Christian like Prof. Schall to cite, but in fact he makes great use of Nietzsche's observation that dissipation is the result not of joy but of joylessness, which is a key point in the book.
The result is a Christian humanism that is intelligible to people of all walks of life and beliefs, and points to a learning that is engaged with the classics and the great, hard questions of life, but does so in a pleasurable, positive way. Many modern figures have commented that Christians (or perhaps religious folk in general) are distracted from solving this world's problems by the promise of an afterlife in Paradise. John Lennon's song "Imagine" is a good example of this thinking. Prof. Schall shows, however, that the very transcendence in the Judeo-Christian worldview in fact gives us what needed to handle those problems that Lennon et al. rightfully rail against.
In the middle of this book, Prof.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By TEK on December 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the most enjoyable books I have read in a while. In a collection of essays, Schall synthesizes the philosophy of the greats within the Western tradition, including Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, St. Augustine, Aquinas, Chesterton, and even some twentieth-century figures such as Voegelin, Strauss and Arendt. These thinkers teach us to be skeptical of the purported wisdom and sophistication of humanity and to rather focus our deepest selves on the highest things, namely the things of God. The surprising twist of this book is that Schall shows that we are at our best in focusing on the highest things when we are engaging in activities most of us would consider inherently unserious, such as dancing, singing, playing sports, writing letters, looking at art, praying, or talking with friends. Unlike work, even the most noble work, these activities don't exist for a purpose, but are rather an end unto themselves, just like God. And because it is through these seemingly unserious activities that we best approach an authentic understanding of God they become, in a sense, the most serious things we do.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who is a "serious" thinker about the highest things. Schall's style is very fun to read and his authentic self is easy to grasp in the words. This book is an intellectual challenge, to be sure; there is a ton in this book that I know I didn't quite understand, though I hope I will some day. This book tells of what is dignified, wonderful, and beautiful about the Western/Classical Christian tradition. Enjoy!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By C. Langley on September 28, 2007
Format: Hardcover
There are certain books that can simply be described as enlightening. This is one of them. I was a philosophy student when I read this book. And it brought the subject alive. It is an enjoyable read. Highly recommended.
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