The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths

John Gray. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-0-374-22917-7
Gray (Straw Dogs), emeritus professor of European thought at the London School of Economics, carves a winding path through 20th century intellectual history to build an attack on liberal humanism, and questions the assumptions that humans cling to as proof of our inherent goodness and perfectability. Drawing on a history of atrocities, Gray asserts that “civilization is natural for humans, but so is barbarism.” He suggests that modern society’s vehement belief in historical progress comes from the pairing of a Socratic faith in reason with a Christian notion of salvation. To counter these myths, Gray constructs his own pantheon of “thinkers who were not afraid to doubt the worth of thought,” drawing upon philosophers and poets who point to how “life can be lived well without metaphysical comfort.” The result is a constellation of ideas that resist order, salvation, and the primacy of rationalism. Although his vision seems closer to some thinkers than others—he returns repeatedly to Wallace Stevens and spends a great deal of time reenvisioning Freud—Gray describes each of his guiding lights, addressing his or her conceptual limitations before moving on. The result is a work of modern philosophy that is no less readable and compelling for being rigorously bleak. Agent: Tracy Bohan, the Wylie Agency. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/08/2013
Release date: 06/04/2013
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