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humanities 117 university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 1, winter 2003/4 to the other approaches taken in the book, although she does at times seem to reduce ethics and morality to concerns with shame and blame. Although the individual essays do not on the whole make references to one another, they are very usefully read in conjunction, with many of them in particular responding to the work of Levinas. Readers who are willing to engage in close reading of some very difficult material will be rewarded by a number of insights into a variety of ways in which ethics and aesthetics can usefully inform one another. (AMY MULLIN) Margaret Visser. Beyond Fate Anansi. xii, 170. $17.95 Visser=s wide-ranging dissection of fatalism in modern Western society, originally broadcast and delivered as the CBC=s prestigious Massey Lectures, makes an idiosyncratic case for >transcendence= in an >addicted= culture. Bored and distracted, prone to embarrassment over status yet deriving joy from shopping, given to both relativism and the new-fangled iron cage of genetic determinism, we are, in her view, a sorry lot. The solution is a reinvigoration of the Christian notions of love, justice, guilt, and forgiveness: forms of attentiveness and responsibility that the theologian Bernard Lonergan, one of Visser=s guiding lights, called the Transcendental Precepts. There is much to admire in Visser=s analysis, in particular her dazzling exercises of metaphorical excavation in the opening section. Here, the author of graceful previous works on table manners and food ritual once more delivers the easy erudition and deft insight characteristic of her charming form of cultural anthropology. The discussion of lines and circles is particularly engaging, demonstrating how much these simple geometric figures dominate our thinking about self, narrative, movement, time, and space. She is likewise incisive and convincing in the scattered sections that trace connections between ancient thought and contemporary life, with brief excursions into the psychology of boredom and addiction, the true cost of >cheap= fast food, and the endless burdens of consumerism=s positional goods. Unfortunately, the whole proves less than the sum of its parts. By nature eclectic and accessible, these lectures skim too fast and too lightly over the vast terrain of fate=s empire. Is it really true that ours is more an honour /shame (Greek) culture than a guilt/forgiveness (Christian) one? A glance at daytime television would suggest otherwise, though the results are perhaps pathological rather than healthy. Are the Greeks really as monolithically fatalistic as she suggests? A footnote excepts Aristotle in passing, but the exception is significant and worth pursuing. (Visser concentrates on Democritus instead, a controversial emphasis.) And, most 118 letters in canada 2002 university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 1, winter 2003/4 important, is Christian moralism, even the nuanced kind Visser has in mind, really the solution to the addictions and consumption spirals of everyday life? Experience appears to indicate the opposite B that, indeed, contemporary society has been able to fold itself comfortably around Christian moralism without much effort, and that this, not an alleged penchant for giving in to fatalism, is now our deepest problem. On all these points, Visser would have found much food for thought in the work of a recently deceased moral philosopher, Bernard Williams, whose influential books of Greek-inflected ethics, Shame and Necessity and Moral Luck, add humour and wisdom, even while taking full measure of life=s tragic dimension, to the contemporary philosophers she does cite, including Alasdair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor. The other significant omission, to my mind, is Ian Hacking=s ground-breaking work, The Taming of Chance, which traces the early modern world=s shifting relationship to fate and chance via the new field of probability theory. But these are bibliographic quibbles; I doubt they would alter Visser=s basic argument in favour of Christian improvement. Cultural observers from Aristotle and Juvenal in the ancient world to Nietzsche and Veblen in the modern have known that the vices of excess and indulgence, the posturing and jockeying for position so typical of human society, are not diminished by sermons and scolding. Critics invariably do better to find levers of pragmatic self-interest...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 117-118
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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