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All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age Paperback – August 9, 2011

3.6 out of 5 stars 70 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Many people in today’s world do not recognize “shining” things when they see them. Instead, feelings of loss, sadness, angst, and despair prevail. Dreyfus and Kelly lament that fact and respond to the situation by introducing (or reintroducing) readers to several literary classics of the Western world. With a balanced mix of philosophy and literature, the authors highlight works like Melville’s Moby Dick, Homer’s Odyssey, and Dante’s Divine Comedy. The organizing principle is mostly thematic, with chapters dealing with nihilism, polytheism, monotheism, and autonomy. The work is not religious in the traditional sense. Jesus and Christianity are brought into the discussion only occasionally as conversation partners, and the target audience includes people who would rather listen to Immanuel Kant than the Apostle Paul. Throughout, the tone is only barely academic. The authors assume their readers have no prior knowledge of the works they discuss. The conclusion is hopeful—that one can live a life worth living in a secular age. It starts with recognizing “shining” things when we encounter them. This book is proof that some of the Western classics can help us do just that. --Wade Osburn --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"[A]n inspirational book but a highly intelligent and impassioned one.â ¦ compelling." -The Wall Street Journal --This text refers to the Digital edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1st Printing edition (August 9, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 141659616X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416596165
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #437,621 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you cannot imagine enjoying, of even finding wise counsel, in a book recommending a return to something like polytheism, you are not alone. I have difficulty enough contending with the lingering specter of monotheism: one god, or, more precisely, the loss of any sense of one God, is heartache enough.

But something about King Menelaus's admiration for his wife Helen has always intrigued me. At a feast in honor of Telemachus, Odysseus's son, Menelaus listens with rapt appreciation as his wife, Helen, the very Helen of Troy, recounts her passionate embrace of Paris, and her flight to Troy; she left Menelaus and their young child for this most famous of affairs. A decade-long war was fought to get her back. Now she is sitting beside Menelaus later in life recounting those days devoted to her passion? And he sits by admiring?

I've read the Odyssey many times, and I have always stubbed my toe on this scene. Shouldn't Menelaus react in rage? And why no shame from Helen? The two of them seem to exult in the memory of this costly betrayal. I have shaken my head at this passage, regarding it is a bizarre prelude to the main event, Odysseus's struggle to return home.

All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age, by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly, opened my eyes. I was using the wrong standard to evaluate Helen's conduct: she swooned for Paris not as an act of betrayal to Menelaus, but because she had responded to Aphrodites's mood, eros. Paris shone, in her eyes, and those eyes were not beclouded with wayward lust, a Christian gloss. She responded to something stirring within and accessible to all, if they would but listen: even in our time we celebrate the sweetest passion.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"All Things Shining" is a book written by two philosophers, for a general audience. While there is textual analysis and criticism, it is in service of a goal that the authors feel should have very broad appeal in our secular and nihilistic age:

"The world used to be in its various forms, a world of sacred, shining things. The shining things now seem far away. This book is intended to bring them close once more. [. . .] Anyone who wants to lure back the shining things, to uncover the wonder we were once capable of experiencing, and to reveal a world that sometimes calls forth such a mood; anyone who is done with indecision and waiting, with expressionlessness and lostness and sadnes and angst, and who is ready for whatever it is that comes next; anyone with hope instead of despair, or anyone with despair that they would like to leave behind, can find something worthwhile in the pages ahead. Or at least that is what we intend.

The authors goal, in short, is to clear a path by which people can lure back the "merry May-day gods of old"--the sacred shining things--in order that they may thereby lead intense and meaningful lives, as the ancient Greeks once did. However, they are not interested in trying to recover anything supernatural; they are not, for example, interested in bringing back belief in a literally existing, supernatural Greek Goddess named "Aphrodite". They are instead interested in something that might be called a mood, or an attunement, that opens one to the world, and to a sacred dimension that once may have been understood as, and represented by a god or goddess: the erotic dimension and that which attunes one to it, being that which was once called "Aphrodite"; the aggressive, war-like dimension "Ares"; and so on.
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I'm a big fan of Hubert Dreyfus but find this effort as problematic as it is engaging. I've enjoyed Drefus' work from his scholarly Being-in-the-World: A Commentary on Heidegger's Being and Time, Division I. to his pamphlet-sized trade On the Internet (Thinking in Action) as well as What Computers Still Can't Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason. What sets apart All Things Shining is the prescriptive nature of this book. After examining modes of being in literature by Homer, Dante, Melville and others, Dreyfus and coauthor Sean Dorrance Kelly conclude that the solution to nihilism--the way to find meaning in our existence--is to be swept up by a crowd and to become fully engaged in daily rituals like drinking coffee. Really? I understand the richness of these ideas (the authors are indebted to Albert Borgmann's work) but two highly regarded philosophers ought to be able to come up with something more canny.

Ultimately, Hubert and Kelly seem too timid to engage in the controversial side of ontological thought--like Heidegger's maxim to "live dangerously" (see Zimmerman's excellent Heidegger's Confrontation with Modernity: Technology, Politics, and Art (Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Technology).
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