Edwards, The Plain Sense of Things

On Rob’s recommendation, I found and read this book. I truly admire it: this is a case where an author has taken his own path toward understanding a problem that concerns him deeply. The problem is, basically, the problem of nihilism. He wants to understand how to maintain the more general feelings of religiosity while knowing full well, in our post-Nietzschean, post-Heideggerian age, that all available gods are dead.

After a brilliant introduction, he works through Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Thoreau, and Norman Maclean (whose writings have meant a lot to me, both in content and style) before arriving at his destination. That destination is best described, I think, in a passage he quotes from Maclean’s book, Young Men and Fire. In the book, Maclean, who is now an old man, has finally figured out how the tragedy transpired at the Mann Gulch fire. Maclean has lost his wife, brother, and parents, and is using up his last bit of life force climbing through the Montana hillsides and sleuthing through the deaths of young men who died several decades past:

Looking down on the worlds of the Mann Gulch fire for probably the last time, I said to myself, “Now we know, now we know.” I kept repeating this line until I recognized that, in the wide world anywhere, “Now we know, now we know” is one of its most beautiful poems. For me, for this moment, anyway, the world was changed to this one-line poem. Finding it a poem, I hoped I could next complete it as a tragedy, more exactly still as the tragedy of this whole cockeyed world that probably always makes its own kind of sense and beauty and not always ours.

Edwards’ title is the same as a great poem of Wallace Stevens, which also expresses the sort of bare-boned poetic meaning that Stevens, Maclean, and Edwards find in our experience — no god required, thank you.

I admire Edwards’ effort, though (perhaps needless to say) his path isn’t the one I would have taken. He has a greater sympathy for the more nuanced writings of continental philosophers (a nicer way of saying what I mean, which might more accurately be described as ‘muddle-headed mush’), where I need to keep my shoes on the concrete. Still, my bet is that Edwards and I would have a lot to discuss if we ever met — and that’s just the sort of feeling you want to have after reading a book, as Holden Caufield once said.

About Huenemann

Curious about the ways humans use their minds and hearts to distract themselves from the meaninglessness of life.
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1 Response to Edwards, The Plain Sense of Things

  1. Mike says:

    The Rebel by Camus is also a fairly long discussion of nihilism. I’ve been enjoying it.

    Is the new “scandal of philosophy” that it concerns itself primarily with nothing?


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