UPHEAVALS OF THOUGHT: The Intelligence of Emotions
Nussbaum's excellent reviews and essays are well known to readers of the New Republic, while her book Love's Knowledge has become a campus classic of literary philosophy. In this massive study, Nussbaum takes the perennial boxing match between thought and perception to a brilliant new register. Her contention is that our perceptions of the world are not colored by what and how we know, but rather by what and how we feel: "Emotions are forms of intense attention and engagement, in which the world is appraised in its relation to the self"—i.e., "emotions are forms of judgment." This huge book has its ups and downs, but it has the feel of a major achievement. Its 16 chapters are broken into three sections. The first draws on diverse examples of "Need and Recognition," including animal emotion, the Neo-Stoics and "American grief" to establish its cognitive ground. In the second and best section, "Compassion," Nussbaum develops a systematic logic regarding the emotions, which advocates compassion in public life, and provides a fascinating critique of neoliberalism. Less successful is the long final section detailing, Love's Knowledge–style, love as it is found in the art and thought of Augustine, Dante, Emily Brontë, Mahler, Whitman, Joyce and other figures. But the book begins with the death of Nussbaum's mother, which reverberates throughout these pages; it is part of Nussbaum's genius that the autobiographical details about this circumstance do not seem extraneous at all (and they are sometimes surprising). For Nussbaum, a particular moment in time and, crucially, its retelling, express a systematic understanding, and a mastery of the circumstances that created it—an idea for which this book provides ample evidence. (Oct.)
Forecast:Given Nussbaum's status in journalism, this book should be widely reviewed; major, career-summing profiles of the peripatetic philosopher could result. This could be one of those scholarly works that crosses over because of its refusal to compromise, rather than in spite of it.