ATS Updates

I’ve heard from several people today that All Things Shining is now in stock at and shipping from Amazon, and also that copies are now available in at least some bookstores.  Just in time for the New Year!  We’re delighted that our publisher, Free Press, has done such a terrific job getting the book out into the marketplace.

We’re also delighted that it’s starting to garner some attention.   To begin with, a review of the book in the Wall Street Journal by Eric Ormsby has just gone up online.  You can find a copy of that review here.  Also, David Brooks of the New York Times wrote earlier today to say that he is devoting his final column of the year to our “marvelous and important book”.  That column is also available now.  Naturally, we are deeply grateful to Messrs. Brooks and Ormsby for the attention they have paid to our book.  For those of you who have read it already – and even for those of you who have not! – I’ll be interested to hear what you think of the reviews.

About Sean D. Kelly

Sean Dorrance Kelly is the Teresa G. and Ferdinand F. Martignetti Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University. He is also Faculty Dean at Dunster House, one of the twelve undergraduate Houses at Harvard. He served for six years as chair of Harvard's Department of Philosophy. Kelly earned an Sc.B. in Mathematics and Computer Science and an M.S. in Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences from Brown University in 1989. After three years as a Ph.D. student in Logic and Methodology of Science, he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of California at Berkeley in 1998. Before arriving at Harvard in 2006, Kelly taught at Stanford and Princeton, and he was a Visiting Professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. Sean Kelly's work focuses on various aspects of the philosophical, phenomenological, and cognitive neuroscientific nature of human experience. He is a world authority on 20th century European Philosophy, specializing in the work of Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. He has also done influential work in philosophy of mind and philosophy of perception. Kelly has published articles in numerous journals and anthologies and he has received fellowships or awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the NEH, the NSF and the James S. McDonnell Foundation, among others. Fun fact: He appeared on The Colbert Show in 2011 to talk about All Things Shining. Sean Kelly lives at Dunster House with his wife, the Harvard Philosopher Cheryl Kelly Chen, and their two boys, Benjamin and Nathaniel.
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15 Responses to ATS Updates

  1. dmf says:

    congrats on the release and the publicity, these reviews (and the comments @NYT) are not shining and perhaps not so helpful about what is new in your efforts, it will be interesting to see what demographic responds to reports of “whooshing up”, good luck.

    Click to access Mooney-sound-2%20copy.pdf

  2. LaurenceMcM says:

    Hi Sean,
    After reading the reviews I am concerned with the way in which the “whooshup” concept has been portrayed in both articles. I always understood this term as meaning the way in which things appear from out of nothing, i.e. the Greek notion of “physis” as natural phenomena. For me the strength of this notion in its original Greek sense is that it makes no distinction between the material or the spiritual as such, therefore moods are not seen as being qualitatively different to any other event where something new naturally comes into being. It seems, however, that the reviewers have interpreted this idea of “whooshing up” as a kind of transcendence, as typified by the collective energy produced by sporting occasions. By focusing on this aspect, not only is the crucial Greek sense of its spritual/material continuity lost, but the whole “whooshup” concept runs the risk of being reduced to a mere psychological event that is triggered by certain participations. With this interpretation, the potential negative effects of “whooshing up” are glaring, and from the few comments that have followed the articles so far, this seems to be how it has been taken. If this is how the “whooshup” concept is received by the public then it will be a great shame, but it will be an even greater shame if this is how you have intended it. If the aim of the book is to overcome our current anxieties by returning to the wisdom of Homeric Greek thought, then surely it is crucial that physis receives its proper recognition as the original occurrence of being. Selling it off as a personal or collective “experience” will certainly not achieve this.
    Having said all that, I suspect that my concerns have more to do with the combined misunderstandings of myself and the reviewers, than with the author’s intentions.
    I look forward to reading it soon. Happy New Year.

    • dmf says:

      Brooks believes the people who tell him that Proust and Spinoza were neuroscientists, apparently his reading of a book by two of the world’s leading phenomenologists did nothing to change that.

  3. Albert Borgmann says:

    Congratulations, that’s wonderful news.
    Both reviewers caught the thrust of the book well. Equally encouraging, they’re holding out the hope that the book will lead to a wider and deeper rethinking of what philosophy can be.
    Given the common inability to read philosophy and the equally common readiness to pigeon-hole and dismiss novel kinds of thinking, you’re blessed with your first reviewers and off to a great start.

  4. Kathleen Cramm says:

    Congratulations! Getting the attention of David Brooks is quite a coup. He is a well respected, intelligent columnist. His columns reflect a depth of understanding and broad thinking in the subjects he tackles.

  5. Britt Z. says:

    Congrats! It’s strange that Heidegger isn’t mentioned in the reviews….Heidegger is in your text, right?!

  6. david leech says:

    I am happy to report that my multiple copies of ATS (one for family member!) arrived yesterday.

    I think its great that NYT (especially Brooks) and WSJ reviewed it. From a sales/outreach perspective I’m sure that’s important. You might also shoot for an interview with Terry Gross. (I have the impression that when you get this kind of review, Amazon orders spike.)

    But to the extent that the reviewer’s job is to guide his/her audience to the book, to make the content pop for that audience, I don’t think either of these reviews are all that helpful. What do I know? I mean, I don’t have an audience. Brooks is the expert. Still, I was surprised by Brooks’ review, in particular, because I am a fan of his work. I have read a couple of his books on contemporary culture and I think they are good and insightful. I also have the impression that Brooks is working on a book on either AI or neuroscience and I would have thought, given that, he would have been a more sensitive reader of Dreyfus and Kelly especially.

    By construing the arena as the prominent feature of our culture, I think he misses the point that the sports event is just one of many focal practices — along with the table, nature, the word, the craft, the market — and it is developing skills to tap into all of these (and more) — the poly-sacred — that Dreyfus and Kelly are encouraging. (Maybe it’s just me. I am not a “fan” of the sports-as-whooshing examples used in the book. In part, no doubt, that’s because I am not much of a sports fan — unless it involves family or close friends. For me, the sports examples lack the depth, the endurance, that other examples, other focal practices, afford.)

    The closing lines of Brooks’ review emphasize his mis-reading IMHO. I too believe that ATS is a harbinger but not because it aligns our “self-conception” with an “arena culture.” That actually sounds a little dangerous. And that danger is confronted directly by Dreyfus and Kelley in their focus on the (meta-poietic) skills of distinguishing the abhorrent from the wholesome focal experience. They clearly emphasize the “poly-sacred” and that seems lost in Brooks’ emphasis.

    Given Brooks take (mis-reading), I think we can look forward to a one of the main lines of controversy surrounding the book to be a contest between individual-ism and arena culture. But that is not the emphasis of ATS as I read it. Rather it is the development of skills for navigating the poly-sacred and that is an antidote for both the negative elements of arena culture and stifling effects of individualism.

  7. raptorJ316 says:


    I just wanted to quickly state that I hope you’re not discouraged by David Brooks’ article today. Of course it’s awesome that your book is getting the attention it deserves…but, along with Laurence’s comment above, I’m very distressed by Brooks’ interpretation. He appears to make the mistake that if you write about nihilistic or solipsistic trends in our society you must be promoting them, or that your philosophy is itself godless/meaningless/valueless.

    In the paper ‘Heidegger on the Connection between Nihilism, Art, Technology and Politics’ on Professor Dreyfus’ Berkley site, he quotes Nietzsche: “Our age…heats itself up continuously, because it feels that it is not warm-basically it is freezing”. I think that Brooks believes ‘All Things Shining’ is just another rootless attempt to warm ourselves. His interpretation of ‘wooshing’ is basically that we become ‘sensitive participants in the collective whooshings’ to find meaning.

    What the hell? My understanding of reading your work here is that you’re tooth and nail trying to claw your way out of this type of understanding of being. When I’m reading David Foster Wallace, I’m gritting my teeth because he’s line by f%*#ing line struggling, sputtering and gasping trying to move us past this idea that our personal experiences, no matter how many people feel the (same) woosh, are no substitute for feeling connected to another person.

    David Brooks works to set your ’cause’ back. He states that ‘Though they try, Dreyfus and Kelly don’t give us a satisfying basis upon which to distinguish the whooshing some people felt at civil rights rallies from the whooshing others felt at Nazi rallies.’

    Hubert Dreyfus, interpreting Heidegger, is one of the leaders in saying that ‘thinking about our deepest concerns as values is nihilism.’ Brooks completely misses this point in your work…the main thrust that the choosing between different types of rallies is the issue at hand.

    So keep up the good work! Keep fighting to push us forwards and don’t worry that Brooks mucked it up. After all, he was a vocal supporter of Operation Iraqi Freedom…I know that’s a bit of an aside, but it maybe casts some light on his priorities and understanding of the world.

  8. Enoch Lambert says:

    In contrast to others who have posted thus far, I thought the main problem with Brooks’ interpretation is that he completely ignores ATS’ emphasis on skills and skillfulness. He mentions the “meta-poetic” proposal, but without any context of where that comes from, or ATS’ phenomenology of skillful activity and how it helps combat nihilism. To give the impression that ATS is focused just on physis is the primary misrepresentation.

    On the other hand, I was actually intrigued by what Brooks had to say about physis-phenomena. I take him less to be misinterpreting ATS on that score and more to be challenging its account. My understanding of ATS is that it presents physis as a marginalized phenomenon that is worth saving and cultivating. Brooks argues that it is actually pervasive in our culture. I’m curious how Sean and Bert would react to that claim.

  9. heuristicaxiom says:

    I’m deeply grateful to Professors Dreyfus and Kelly for writing this book. As a terminal philosophy gawker who is still winding his way through Bert Dreyfus’s podcasts, and now delighted to find Sean’s as well–I still have some ideological trepidations about some of the implicit implications of Heidegger’s “disclosures” as outlined in their work (based on these two reviews); not to worry, as my leftist bias in no way closes me off from its profundity; and as teachers, Messers Dreyfus and Kelly are top-notch–nonetheless, a mostly positive (but not unqualified) review from David Brooks and the WSJ gives me pause and makes my mid-section automatically undulate a just wee bit!

    Will we see similarly engaged reviews from the non-dogmatic left too? I hope so for my own comfort level. Political rapprochement is a thing to be eminently sought after where possible (maybe not always), but when so– only insofar as its result is a more nuanced and sincere engagement between “individuals” as well as cultural paradigms (or in our case, “nihilistic”cultural cul-de-sacs). It’s applaudable: transcending those old facile bifurcations between the ‘Mountain’ and the ‘Plain’– a well-considered view deserves well-consideration, and should be appreciated as such, whether it come from a party hack or anyone else with any agenda, unbidden or unhidden.

    It’s also laudable for anyone to endeavor to see through the myriad eyes of “otherness” and to appreciate the complexities of the overlapping Venn diagram of “us-ness” as an organic/cyborgic construction to be seen as a navigable terrain from which intrepid explorers can set off (but never arrive)! Still, cannot the problem of intercultural communication easily devolve into solipsism or narcissistic arrogance ? Cannot the regional agglomerations of community into whatever “understood” global collective identity emerges be read as either something “cosmopolitan” or “imperial” in the original sense of those terms?

    I fear the prescriptive implications of this text once loaded into the hermeneutic wash cycle that David Foster Wallace so aptly reveals to his readers. David Brooks, looking through his lens, sees a panacea for the autonomous and un-moored values that he would like to have “Whoosh” back up into American culture. Where ATS deviates from his understanding of “who” America is, he critiques the book as knee jerk verbiage from the liberal hegemony installed in institutions of higher learning.

    Since I’m so long-winded and not terribly clear in making my basic point–I’ll sign off, in hope that someone reading this will have a sense of what i mean and invoke a more leftish (but not “leveled”) approbation of the book. (Which of course, i haven’t even read. Yet). I hope many other deep engagements with the book will continue to pour into the overall commonwealth of ideas.

    Richard (daring to understand while caviling of being understood) :0)

  10. Kip Leitner says:

    OK. I just read 4 months worth of comments on this blog so as to grok the audience. Earlier today my dad mentioned by phone, from 3,000 miles away, that he had read an interesting column by David Brooks. Since I had also read the same column, and thought it interesting, I felt like weighing in. First, having not read the ATS, I can only comment on the discussion trends I see on the blog, Brooks’ article and my own area of expertises — Christianity, ritual, mythology and body psychotherapy.

    Most of what I see on the blog seems well focused and erudite. Some of the technical language reminds me of Middle Age scholasticism and is beyond my comprehension. Forays into monotheism seem accurate to me; the orientation of Jesus, his message and mission, less so. I see the central thesis (as I will frame it) as imperative: human experience no longer gains meaning from a monolithic interpretive matrix. Yet there remains a ground, a subtratum, an empty, “objectless realm” that provides a context inside which meaning is produced for the events of our lives.

    I think Brooks — and U.S. opinion polls — are correct that people are not yet ready to do without a Supreme Being. The contentless entity which will fill that ever widening gap is a contemporary subject of great interest and speculation.

    I question how effective disembodied philosophy can be as a change agent of beneficent moral character. The last four months of blog comments don’t show much in the way of the embodied nature of thought.

    Brooks does what he can given his space limitation, and does a little Judith Miller stuff by playing to the crowd some, changing the meaning of the primary literature around a little so as to say what he wants, and not necessarily what the authors exactly say — which always bothers the technicians of the adulterated philsophical realms.

    I’m glad Brooks supports idea of interpretive diversity. I think this is important, a consequence of irreversible cultural flux.

    And, about Jesus — the liberal tradition of critical biblical scholarship which began about 150 years ago in Europe and which has since analyzed the Gospels and New Testament writings using literary, sociological, political, military, ethnic, geographic, theological and economic paradigms has concluded that much of what is said there, and attributed to Jesus, reflects the thinking of early communities that started around Jesus at least at much as they do about Jesus himself.

    The Gospel of John is an ahistorical fabrication of faithful zealots of the faith, the most important writing in the entire Christian witness because it projects the mythical image of the divine realm into Jesus, enfleshing God’s spirit in matter. Even though it is a projection, the projection is **real** (as all are), and completely understandable. Moderns project the divine imagery externally. The original followers of Jesus were not like this — they felt the power internally, so to speak. In psychological terms, the Jungians (and Freudians) would agree that the withdrawal of the projection of spiritual agency to oneself in a healthy manner can create a ferocious motivational and persevering drive and turns people into prophets. The official story of Christianity is that 12 such people generated a funky derivative of Judaism which has since captivated the entire world in some ways.

    In short, anyone who works Christianity into anything these days needs to read “THE HISTORICAL JESUS the life of a Jewish Mediterranean Jewish Peasant,” John Dominic Crossan. Otherwise, you’re left dealing with the inherited “popular culture” Jesus who comes off more like a pop icon do-gooder than an actual revolutionary figure tamed by history because of his subversive teachings and dangerous orientation toward the entrenched power structures of his own time — all for the sake of human need and healing.

    One measure of the power of popular Christianity to distort the actual system of thought can be seen in how much people talk about God — something Jesus never talked about. If you actually crack open a Bible and read the new testament (skipping John), you will find that what Jesus talked about was “The Kingdom of God”, and for all you greek-o-philiacs, that’s basileia tou theou, most accurate translated today as the “Empire of God”.

    Now, put this little phrase “Empire of God” next to what a senior official in the Bush administration said when talking with journalist Ron Suskind: ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. . . We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

    In my opinion, what is going to emerge is a fusion of activist mindfulness, or mindful activism, however it’s put together. I would caution about minimizing the “whoosh” as mere psychology.

  11. dmf says:

    I see that you folks will be on KQED the day after the authors of the new Practical Wisdom book, will be interesting to see if this goes down as competition or as a possible alliance.

  12. david leech says:

    Today’s NYT review of ATS by Michael Roth, “The Classics as the Antidote to Modern Malaise” is better substantively than David Brooks’ review. But it too seems to go off the rails, reading into Dreyfus and Kelly, like Brooks did, something that they don’t hold. Roth says, ““Mr. Dreyfus and Mr. Kelly undercut their own message by claiming that ‘a whole pantheon of gods is really there.’ Why invoke these gods when the surface events are supposed to be enough?”

    Apparently even sophisticated readers don’t get the distinction between the ancients’ experience of something external, explained by Homeric Greeks as the force of gods in the world, and our contemporary experience of something external explained as moods, both referred to as “whooshing up.” Dreyfus and Kelly don’t evoke gods. They evoke the experience of moods similar to the experience of evoked gods; that which is external, for which we can be grateful, an antidote to monomaniacalism of any sort, ancient, modern, and post-modern. They are reaching back, “traveling to foreign lands,” to recover something worth recovering for the contemporary condition.

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