The New York Times reviews All Things Shining
Like Allan Bloom and Harold Bloom, and more recently David Denby and Alain de Botton, Mr. Dreyfus and Mr. Kelly think that classic texts point the way out of our contemporary malaise. They focus on philosophical issues, relying heavily on a version of Martin Heidegger’s narrative of cultivated despair with our technological age. Once upon a time in the West, way before Socrates and Plato kicked off what we now think of as philosophy, people were open to the wonderful variety of things. When we began to look for the Truth, however, we got locked into a cycle of certainty and skepticism.
Our desire for an Essence or a God to anchor the world made us increasingly oblivious to our experience of it. As our monotheistic quest for the foundation of meaning fell short, we slid down the slippery slope toward nihilism, toward the sense that nothing had any sense at all. As we strove to get out of this morass, we only slipped further, since striving was a big part of the problem.
For Heidegger, particularly after his awful alliance with the Nazis, finding a way to listen to great works of art and philosophy, to hear the lessons of the poets and craftsmen, was our only hope for turning away from contemporary emptiness and oblivion. Mr. Dreyfus and Mr. Kelly provide an Americanized version of Heidegger’s narrative: Wallace and Melville play crucial roles, and the book ends by extolling the openness to communal feelings Americans display at sports events.
Mr. Dreyfus and Mr. Kelly see in the Homeric past a world in which “the highest form of human excellence” is “to recognize, be amazed by, and be grateful for whatever it is that draws you to act at your best.” They say that Homer’s heroes were able to open themselves to a variety of gods, to “whatever stands beyond us that requires our gratitude.” In the authors’ reading of Homer and other texts, they rely heavily on Heidegger’s concept of “attunement,” which conveys how receptive moods allow us to acknowledge meaning in the world. We get out of tune when we pursue monotheism, the notion that there is a unifying principle at work in the world, because we then try too hard to make the universe reveal its secrets or serve our interests. When we try too hard, we lose touch with the world.