Over the southern hemisphere summer, when things go a bit quieter at Uni (and for those of you who think we all get 3 months holiday, let me tell you I had 20 minutes off on Christmas morning!) one of my favourite things to do is to read something big…something that’s going to take my brain to the gymnasium in a way that endless emails just don’t do.
Two years ago I read Erin Manning’s astonishing book ‘Relationscapes’ which is the work of an astonishing mind and still gives me goose-bumps.
Last year I read Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (well I say I read it…I read a page or two then went for a lie down!)
This year I’ve been prompted into thinking about philosophy as a exercise in living, not just as an abstract subject to be studied. Filip Maric – a PhD student with me, physiotherapist, connoisseur of Aikido, Zazen and Shiatsu – has been exploring the work of Pierre Hadot who is probably one of the most current agitators for the lived practice of philosophy in his doctoral study. But I’ve been starting with something that comes at the question of how we might live philosophically from a slightly different angle, and there are two books that are well worth looking into if you are thinking about how one might answer some of the bigger questions of how one might live in today’s world where we are all burdened by our collective loss of faith and the double-edges sword of too much indecision and too many choices.
The first is Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly’s book ‘All Things Shining’ which looks at a wide range of classic philosophical and literary texts from Aeschylus to Dante, Kant to Herbert Melville’s Moby Dick. (There is a good review of the book here). Dreyfus is a giant author and philosopher in his own right and has edited some big books on Foucault (Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, for example). The man has his own dedicated page on Amazon books for goodness sake! More than anything else though, he teaches at Berkeley in California, so in my world he’s a God. Given all this lofty hero worship, one might think that the book is a lofty exercise in philosophizing. But not at all. The book is beautifully written and very accessible. It tackles the question of how to live in a postmodern age with a very deft touch and has some really interesting suggestions on living the philosophical life.
The other book is James Miller’s book ‘Examined Lives: From Socrates to Nietzsche.’ This is another book which tackles a subject that is sometimes written by experts with only other experts in mind. But Miller’s approach is to animate the lives of some great philosophers so that you almost feel as if you could get to know them. This is about seeing the person behind their ideas…about seeing how their ideas came about by living through their age and grappling with the same questions being posed by Dreyfus and Kelly.
Both of these books offer suggestions for problems that we face as people and as professionals. I’ll be thinking about how to use these in my teaching in the coming weeks, and I can highly recommend them if you’re after your own light but tasty summer read.