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  • Memories and Portraits
  • Justin Bell (bio)
H. G. Callaway, Memories and Portraits: Explorations in American Thought. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2010. 223 + xxi pp. ISBN 978-1-4438-2427-9. $67.99 (hbk).

In Memories and Portraits, H. G. Callaway presents us with the memoir of a philosopher. I will, as readers of this review will hardly find surprising, be reviewing this book with two foci. First, I will address the merits of the work itself and, second, with an eye toward our shared interests in John Dewey, other pragmatists, and how the work incorporates or neglects pragmatism’s contributions to the themes Callaway discusses. However, in many ways this second task is auxiliary. Callaway does not present us with a systematic text in philosophy, but rather a text that is a memoir about the author as much as it is about a philosopher, specifically, how the philosopher’s experiences have demonstrated the importance of location, pluralism, and identity to the author. Callaway tells us his story, that of an academic from Philadelphia who finds himself working in Africa, Europe, and the United States. He punctuates his stories, as many philosophers do, with digressions and philosophical points. Those looking for a systematic argument will likely be disappointed—although Callaway’s intention does not appear to be either systematic or argumentative. Rather, Callaway presents a readable memoir of an interesting life. Through his story, we can see how one individual develops as a thinker and how his development shows us something about, to borrow the final chapter’s title, locality and natural grace. Those who are wonderstruck by the stories of philosophy will be interested in this work. While Callaway’s narrative style is engaging, those interested in straightforward argumentation will not care for it. This book requires some personal and emotional reflection. I found myself in an imagined conversation between reader and writer, which allowed me to grasp Callaway’s project. Much like listening to a conversation with a scholar, the reader is treated to snippets and comments that show a depth of philosophic insight and intellectual history without the need for full argumentation at all times. But, again, this work is not about arguments. Instead, it is about Callaway’s story.

Callaway, intriguingly, writes as an American philosopher who comes to understand his own experiences in light of his travels abroad. He frames the work by reference to William James’s distinction between the foreignness of habits of wariness and the intimacy of trust (xiii). Importantly, he understands his time in [End Page 97] foreign lands to be important for how he developed his own awareness of the distinctiveness of American philosophy (xii). On the first page of chapter 1, James is referenced again and we are asked to contemplate the intimacy of knowing how to move around a familiar city. At the end of the work, in a telling sign of Callaway’s pluralism, James is quoted approvingly: “the notion of the ‘one’ breeds foreignness and that of the ‘many’ intimacy” (201). Here Callaway reflects on how plurality becomes an intimate reminder of his connection to place and how unity connotes what is alien and separate.

Callaway begins his story in Philadelphia, the city where he feels most familiar—where he has an intimate connection. The first four chapters tell us about his city and his own story growing up there. Though we are being told a story, I believe that Callaway wants us to keep something other than the narrative in mind. It is telling that even in the beginning of his Philadelphia story, Callaway discusses the importance, by way of Santayana, of imagination for “active engagement with life and the environment” (10). We are left with an open question about engagement and imagination—one that readers are directed to think about while reading the text. The practical imagination has a role to play and

has its own moral and social conditions. Practical cooperation and joint enterprise do not often arise in an archaic moral vacuum. They do not exist everywhere. What philosophy will sustain the practical imagination and yet sustain itself and thus the general social and institutional conditions within which the practical imagination...


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pp. 97-100
Launched on MUSE
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