NDPR: Tim Gould reviews Ed Mooney’s Lost Intimacy in American Thought

NDPR has just published a review, written by Tim Gould (Philosophy, Metropolitan State College of Denver), of Edward Mooney’s Lost Intimacy in American Thought: Recovering Personal Philosophy from Thoreau to Cavell (Continuum 2009). We thought many of you would be interested in reading it. To access the review online, please click here.

(Let me take this opportunity to remind you that the text of a lecture that Prof. Mooney gave this past year as part of the Cavelleria Siracusa at Le Moyne College is posted on this blog, here.)

Here is an excerpt from the beginning of Prof. Gould’s review:

Edward Mooney’s eloquent and challenging Lost Intimacy in American Thought is perhaps even more encompassing than its subtitle suggests. While Thoreau and Cavell do indeed anchor the structure of this book and the places it explores, there are a host of figures that occupy significant positions in this struggle to regain something lost in our thought. Most especially, he examines closely the work of Henry Bugbee, an elusive figure among American philosophers, belonging both to a certain moment at Harvard and to a longer period of his life in the American West. (Bugbee’s writing seems to traverse the various boundaries between nature and culture, including the more antagonistic aspects of each.) It is hard to imagine a more generous and more detailed accounting of Bugbee’s interests and themes, along with an appreciation of his passionate and lucid prose. The pages on Bugbee are the most numerous and often the most rewarding in the book. For this account alone, the book would deserve a thoughtful reading.

Other figures play their parts in this passionate, yet intellectual drama. The drama is at once moving, even revitalizing, but also upsetting. Perhaps it could not fulfill its goals if it failed to upset its readers. To paraphrase Emerson in what could be a motto for this book, only those who can still be unsettled are able to find hope.

Mooney’s book is quietly loaded with juxtapositions of beauty and violence (including violent death) that can jar the reader and not just his or her sensibility. He writes of the impact of Arendt on Eichmann and other figures that make their appearance and briefly haunt us with the sheer fact of the Holocaust. J. Glenn Grey’s book The Warriors is a book that makes no moral judgments, except to indicate the lyricism and the horrors that a soldier faces and must act upon. Thoreau on John Brown reminds us of the campaign of murder in Bloody Kansas, and there is also the enigmatic corpse of Margaret Fuller, dying with all her fantastic promise. There is Bruce Wilshire’s frozen north, a companion to the uninhabitable summit of Thoreau’s Mt. Ktaadin, and there is, somewhat incongruously, Salmon Rushdie and the continuing shadow of the famous fatwa, and the stubborn persistence of the songs and singers of the world.

There are also chapters or significant pieces of chapters on the work of Henry James (and Robert Pippin’s treatment of James), fragments of Ortega and the less orthodox theological tradition that includes Meister Eckhart and whatever tradition (if any) is represented by The Brothers Karamazov. The sheer conjunction of these figures is illuminating but also challenging. It is illuminating because it would be easy to ignore the number of figures in American thought who do not fit neatly into Continental or Analytic boxes and who can be seen to share certain preoccupations with our loss of closeness to the world.

But is also a challenge to summarize the “plot” of Mooney’s book and hence the way he brings together these apparently disparate figures. However one finally traces the pattern in his tapestry, it is important from the outset to note that there is such a pattern (or perhaps more than one), and that Mooney has not heaped up a small mountain of his favorite writers, all of them connected by the themes of love and intimacy.

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