Thursday, April 09, 2009

"guide to being free"

by Damon Young

"Grasp the exhaustless life that all men live! Each shares therein, though few may comprehend: Where'er you touch, there's interest without end."
Faust (Prelude on the Stage)

I subscribe to that view of Aristotle's that "all men by nature desire to know". In my personal search to know I have read many books and found some thinkers, like Aristotle, that help me make sense out of the world and develop a personal philosophy. Goethe, who defined modern man and his striving, is another of those for whom I see both affinities and challenges. My current rereading of Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities (and the first serious close study) is part of my personal search. It was my interest in Robert Musil that led me to an Australian philosopher and author, Damon Young, whose book Distraction: A Philosopher's Guide to Being Free is just what the title suggests, and much more.

In reading through Distraction I have found confirmation that it is a "guide to being free" as stated in the subtitle of the book, but it is also an exploration of the nature of man in his search to explain the world around him. The discussion of distraction, what it is and what it means, leads in interesting and unexpected directions. The nature of and importance of freedom for individuals is explored through discussions of a wide variety of thinkers. These include philosophers from Aristotle to Marcuse, and literary artists including Henry James and Robert Musil. Some of my favorite thinkers are here, like Aristotle and William James, but also those with whom I disagree, like Nietzsche, Marx and Marcuse. Present as well are writers and artists with whose works I have little familiarity like Heidegger, Matisse and Foucault. I look forward to exploring some of their works.

That list of thinkers mentioned above suggests another aspect of Distraction, one which I find appealing, as a jumping off point for further discovery and expansion of knowledge. The final section of the book, a sort of annotated bibliography, called "Balancing the Books", is helpful in this regard. I appreciate authors who share their ideas for further reading with the reader. These brief comments only begin to touch on the wealth of ideas in Distraction, and I may make future comments based on the thoughts that it will have prompted in my reading and thinking. I only know that my search is spurred by reading Distraction as it raises more questions for me than it answers, and that is a very good thing.

Distraction: A Philosopher's Guide to Being Free by Damon Young. Melbourne University Press, 2008.

No comments: