Perceptive meditations on humanity’s need for spiritual nourishment.

DOSTOYEVSKY READS HEGEL IN SIBERIA AND BURSTS INTO TEARS

A collection of essays on why contemporary culture would do well to embrace transcendence.

Hungarian cultural critic Földényi (Theory of Art/Univ. of Theatre, Film, and Television, Budapest; The Glance of the Medusa: The Physiognomy of Mysticism, 2018, etc.) gathers 13 pieces, published in earlier versions from 1995 to 2012, that examine the spiritual and metaphysical consequences of the Enlightenment. The author regrets the loss of mystery in contemporary life, “the feeling that there is something incomparably greater than my own self.” That sense of the ineffable, he asserts, was suppressed during the Enlightenment, which promoted the idea that “only time and intellectual preparation were required in order to cast light upon all things—with no dark corners remaining anywhere unilluminated by the light of reason.” In essays that consider a wide range of writers and artists, including Dostoyevsky, Rilke, Goethe, Artaud, William Blake, Mary Shelley, Goya, and many more, Földényi underscores the importance of the metaphysical and warns against seeing “the renunciation of transcendence as a victory.” We are surrounded by the enigma of our own existence: “Each human life,” the author writes, “emerges thanks to a fracture, a break” that plunges us from nonexistence into existence and throws us back again. In the title essay, the author imagines Dostoyevsky, exiled in Siberia, coming upon Hegel’s rationalistic philosophy of world history, which eliminated Siberia “as a setting for historical culture.” Exiled from the rest of Russia and now, by Hegel, from the progress of world history, Dostoyevsky responded at first with dismay. But gradually, he came to find new understanding—of himself, religion, and the Russian soul—far from “Hegelian repression.” Among Földényi’s essays on art, his consideration of Caspar David Friedrich’s painting Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog stands out for its precise, lyrical prose and insights about art and science. Friedrich’s painting, the author argues, reflects the contradictory longing of German romantics to become eternally submerged in nature—or to turn around and “write rapturous interpretations of the absolute spirit embodied by that sea of fog.”

Perceptive meditations on humanity’s need for spiritual nourishment.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-16749-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

STILLNESS IS THE KEY

An exploration of the importance of clarity through calmness in an increasingly fast-paced world.

Austin-based speaker and strategist Holiday (Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, 2018, etc.) believes in downshifting one’s life and activities in order to fully grasp the wonder of stillness. He bolsters this theory with a wide array of perspectives—some based on ancient wisdom (one of the author’s specialties), others more modern—all with the intent to direct readers toward the essential importance of stillness and its “attainable path to enlightenment and excellence, greatness and happiness, performance as well as presence.” Readers will be encouraged by Holiday’s insistence that his methods are within anyone’s grasp. He acknowledges that this rare and coveted calm is already inside each of us, but it’s been worn down by the hustle of busy lives and distractions. Recognizing that this goal requires immense personal discipline, the author draws on the representational histories of John F. Kennedy, Buddha, Tiger Woods, Fred Rogers, Leonardo da Vinci, and many other creative thinkers and scholarly, scientific texts. These examples demonstrate how others have evolved past the noise of modern life and into the solitude of productive thought and cleansing tranquility. Holiday splits his accessible, empowering, and sporadically meandering narrative into a three-part “timeless trinity of mind, body, soul—the head, the heart, the human body.” He juxtaposes Stoic philosopher Seneca’s internal reflection and wisdom against Donald Trump’s egocentric existence, with much of his time spent “in his bathrobe, ranting about the news.” Holiday stresses that while contemporary life is filled with a dizzying variety of “competing priorities and beliefs,” the frenzy can be quelled and serenity maintained through a deliberative calming of the mind and body. The author shows how “stillness is what aims the arrow,” fostering focus, internal harmony, and the kind of holistic self-examination necessary for optimal contentment and mind-body centeredness. Throughout the narrative, he promotes that concept mindfully and convincingly.

A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-53858-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

THE ROAD TO CHARACTER

New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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