Sunday, February 22, 2009

Waking Up

One of things that Eastern Philosophy and Meditation practices seek to do is to wake us up to reality.  No matter what material one reads by Eastern scholars the message is the same: “Wake up!” Other ways of stating this imperative would be: “Become aware,” “Take stock,” “Live now,” “Cease to be dependent” or “Carpe Diem.”  All of these commands amount to the same thing essentially.  We are living in the shadows; let us come out into the light.  However, sometimes, if we are not well prepared that light of truth will blind us.  Needless to say, I’m here alluding to Plato’s great allegory of the cave.

Perusing an Awakening Book:

The books I like are always those which make me think.  I very seldom go for very light stuff, but that is just a personal predilection and is in no sense motivated by cultural snobbery, merely that I’m addicted to books with a philosophical twist.  Anyway, I recently read what I would term an awakening book, viz., Straw Dogs (Granta, 2002) by John Gray who at the time of writing was the Professor of European Thought at The London School of Economics.  The learned professor is the author of more than a dozen books, many of which have been widely translated.

Wake Up:

His message is that we have all been gulled and are being gulled by our own cultures which are rife with prejudices and unquestioned presuppositions.  The one thing which I like about John Gray’s books is that he questions everything, even things we take for granted.  His writing has the spirit of a fresh wind which blows away the cobwebs that have gathered about our thinking.  He also counsels humility.  He does not write as one who has all the answers or even some of them.  No,  true philosopher that he is, he persists in asking the big and great questions about all our cultural suppositions and presuppositions.

Lucid and Clear:

Gray provokes me to write in synonyms because his work is so good that I’m inclined to write two words instead of one.  I realise all too well that this is one of my major faults stylistically and philosophically also because it muddies the clarity.  That said, Gray is very clear and cogent in his arguments.  He only uses one word where we lesser mortals would use two or three.  So convincingly does he write that we want to argue at once with him and bring the debate to the dining table if others share our interest in philosophy or at least in good thought.  Our wanting to argue possibly and probably means that Gray has disturbed the faulty foundations of our thought structures.


Gray is telling us forcibly and clearly that we are creatures full of hubris, whose greatest flaw is our propensity for self-delusion.  We can convince ourselves of anything when our vanity and hubris is at stake. 

A Call to Question the foundations of Modern Culture:

Modernism, post-modernism, deconstructionism and post-Christian culture and I’m sure many many more terms with the prefix “post” in them have long since questioned the foundations of the Christian World.  This is a debate long since dead in many quarters save in those of the Church or any group interested in spiritual questions.  Gray is quite accepting of all the foregoing and of their rigid questioning of old certainties.  However, he keeps the rigid questioning going by asking the same questions of Humanism as was asked of Christian Culture.  This is what makes this ever such a neat and cool book, if I may be forgiven for using the latter colloquial term which fits this book so well.  It fits the book well because it is devoid of any egotism or smart intellectual one-up-man-ship – devoid of philosophical jargon almost completely.  Here is a philosopher who writes clearly for the layman.  A.C. Grayling is also a crystal clear writer, although I see Grayling is one of Gray’s critics.  I will return to this debate between these two philosophers when I have read their material more widely, and indeed when I have attempted to digest it.

Don Cupitt, that agnostic (or is it atheistic?) Anglican, whose theology-philosophy (I’m never sure which they are) books I also adore has this to say about Straw Dogs: “Tough-minded and entertaining, this is popular philosophy at its best.  The more you disagree with John Gray’s main line of argument, the more you will gain from him.  Splendid!”  These are wonderful words and they were the ones which made me buy this wonderful little gem, on a par with John A.T. Robinson’s Honest to God.  What Honest to God did for theology Straw Dogs does for philosophy.  Over the next few posts I intend to follow Gray’s line of argument from beginning to end. 

Above I have uploaded a picture I took quite recently with my mobile phone shortly after awakening. The slightly blurred effect was not purposely done, being a mere serendipitous occurrence which nicely communicates a sense of Waking Up.

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