SURFING WITH SARTRE by Aaron James

SURFING WITH SARTRE

An Aquatic Inquiry into a Life of Meaning
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KIRKUS REVIEW

I surf, therefore I am: a good-natured exploration of some of the big questions philosophy raises, all while hanging 10.

In this nimble set of essays on topics such as work and freedom, James (Philosophy/Univ. of California, Irving; Assholes: A Theory of Donald Trump, 2016, etc.) gives a fine if idiosyncratic account of how philosophers puzzle out the world—idiosyncratic because it’s framed from the point of view of a surfer. Now, existentialism is one thing, existential threat quite another. One of the biggest questions facing any thinking person is how to deal with climate change, on which James consults a South African fellow wave-rider, who offers one approach to the problem, saying, “Bru, don’t stress.” That’s all well and good, but of course it’s not the end of the question, and James allows that maybe some stress may be necessary and that contingency suggests that “the surfer can contribute by not working and going surfing instead,” checking out of the industrial/capitalist system that is doing so much damage. But more: as the author writes elsewhere, surfing evokes the better angels, teaching its practitioners to cultivate “the highest expression of human perceptual capacity, the human’s way of at once being and doing.” When you start talking being and doing, then you’re in Sartrian territory, and though it’s hard to imagine the diminutive French philosopher riding the big waves, it’s not hard to see his influence on James’ declaration that “surfing is freedom”—even if Sartre would qualify the statement by insisting that freedom is something more than simply not “working a crap job (here defined as a job that consistently requires missing good waves).” Throughout, the book is provocative and less laid-back than it might appear at first glance. A 12-page glossary defines some surfing and philosophy terms alike.

Heidegger as ho-daddy? The approach is unusual, but to fruitful—and entertaining—ends.

Pub Date: Aug. 8th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-385-54073-5
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2017




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