Sunday, October 29, 2006

Jonathan Lear's Radical Hope

My copy of Jonathan Lear's Radical Hope arrived in the mail the other day.

The first of the many cool things about the book: you can't tell from the product shots that you find online, but the dust-jacket is shiny. The spine is all silvery and metallic blue, and I doubt that it will ever lose its status as the most attractive book on my shelf.

I've mentioned this book before: it deals with the collapse of traditional Crow culture, and how the Crow dealt with that collapse under the leadership of Plenty Coups. Lear has an online essay about the book. Quick description of the problem the book addresses:
If we were to have the historical bad luck to be living at a time when our culture was collapsing, what would it be to face such a disaster with courage and integrity? This turns out to be an incredibly difficult question to answer. Precisely because one's culture is collapsing, one can no longer turn to the received tradition of what counts as courage or integrity: for that tradition is part of what is collapsing. In the case of the tribes of the northwest plains, they had understood courage in terms of warrior honor; but intertribal warfare had become impossible. How can one face courageously the fact that it is no longer possible to live courageously — at least, as courage has been traditionally understood?
I haven't finished it yet, but I can say that the first third of the book includes some of the most chilling philosophical writing I have ever read. This stuff gives me the creeps. It's awesome.


scott said...

I loved that essay, thanks for posting it. Book: ordered.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. Why "chilling"? It's given me goose-bumps, yes, but more from excitement. Or something.

Toby said...

The distance between excitement and horror is not that great.

The book as a whole is exciting, but the first part of it involves Lear describing a problem that consists in something-awful-I-know-not-what. Some of the quotes from the Crow are exceedingly sad from a third-person point of view, and the attempt to imagine yourself into their position is freaky.

Anonymous said...

Not least because the reader may feel, with considerable justification, that he or she is also confronting something-awful-i-know-not-what.

"Excitement" is not the right word. I refer to the feeling you get when you stumble upon something-brilliantly-relevant-and-helpful-even-if-you're-not-sure-precisely-how. Yet.

I experience a little frisson of recognition regarding the power of dream work and other imaginative achievements Lear perceives in the history of Plenty Coups and his people. If we too face cultural devastation (or worse) we will need to be equally adept at redeploying and transcending the "thicker" aspects of our collective worldview.

Did anyone have a similar response?

Anonymous said...

Please check out this reference which is also very much about Radical Hope in the midst of cultural collapse.

Plus a related reference which communicates the same Understanding