What if reams of our conventional knowledge are just flat-out wrong—what if, for instance, the division between “perceiver” and “perceived” is erroneous?
Peace theorizes about the nature of human existence and how we interact with our environment. Offering argument as well as description, Peace posits that the prevailing mode of seeing the self as “separate” from what it seen, as well as from others, is unproductive and wrongheaded. Touching on his work with the disabled, he recounts his own life experience, mixing personal anecdotes with excerpts from the writings of American poets Walt Whitman, Wallace Stevens, e. e. cummings and Emily Dickinson, as well as the British poets T. S. Eliot and John Keats. The poets serve as de facto guides through this book, as Peace looks to them to provide examples of the kind of consciousness he means to exalt: one where a sense of the self as an entity divorced from the rest of reality is overcome. The effects of this practice, Peace states, will benefit not just humankind, but the entire earth. His scope ranges from the perspective of the individual to the universe itself. At points, his reasoning becomes lost in insufficiently defined terminology or in the abstract nature of its own ideas. Sometimes, it’s unclear whose ideas are whose: “Without consciousness, there is no ‘time’ ” is essentially a paraphrase of Kant’s Transcendental Idealism. Likewise, Peace’s discussions of perception in relation to the self might have benefited from an examination of the philosophical literature around that topic. There are platitudes, but there are also real insights, as well as a tone that indicates a passionate but tempered candidness. Though the collection as a whole seems elliptical, and at times repetitive, it’s by and large an intelligent project that aims to explore its subject matter outside of the confines of genre boundaries. It is at once an original statement and a bibliography of sources for further reading. Peace’s treatise, with its aggressive tone and pace, will not be for everyone. But this may be a strength, not a limitation.
Provides the type of engrossing hodgepodge of memoir, philosophy, literary theory and metaphysics growing more endangered—and perhaps more valuable—in book culture every day.