Sunday, February 26, 2012

Love's Work, by Gillian Rose

"Matured by love, practised in the grief of its interminable exercise, I find myself back at the beginning."
Sadly, Gillian Rose was not at the beginning but at the end: she died of brain cancer shortly after writing those words. With or without that knowledge, the reader experiences her voice as nobly heartbroken: life, she tells us, is permeated with sadness; to live is to lose, in the end, everything.

But despair not! Rose was, after all, a working philosopher, and philosophy, she writes, offers real consolation in the face of life's losses, not unlike, in its hopefulness, the lips of one's beloved. Among her ambitions in Love's Work is to offer a scathing defense of philosophy against postmodernism, which, she says, "renounces the modern commitment to reason." The postmodernist impulse to blame reason for the Holocaust, for example, demonstrates an inability "to perceive the difference between thought and being, thought and action." That inability represents a real threat to the future of civilization:
[Postmodernists] proceed as if to terminate philosophy is to dissolve the difficulty of acknowledging conflict and of staking oneself within it. To destroy philosophy, to abolish or to supersede critical, self-conscious reason, would leave us resourceless to know the difference between fantasy and actuality, to discern the distortion between ideas and their realisation. It would prevent the process of learning, the corrigibility of experience. The ill-will towards philosophy misunderstands the authority of reason, which is not the mirror of the dogma of superstition, but risk. 
And it's there, at risk, that Rose's link between philosophy and love becomes clear. Both thinking and loving are risks; we undertake them with no guarantee of success, and often at great personal cost. But in the end they are what is worth doing. They represent the fundamental work of life.

So Love's Work as an elegy to labor. With equal fervor it celebrates the labor of the mind and the labor of the body. In love, these two undertakings coalesce. To love is to think with the body, to caress with the mind. This extraordinary book, which alternates between treatise, polemic, memoir, and eulogy, is an act of love, concerning itself with what most matters in life and nothing else.

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