A grim tirade

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Miriam Cosic

time’’. Is it pos­si­ble he hasn’t kept up with his own dis­ci­pline since he re­tired? Post­mod­ernist think­ing is full of sober re­def­i­ni­tion of what it means to be hu­man, leav­ing the old tri­umphal­ism be­hind. Even ear­lier, less hy­per­bolic thinkers were strug­gling with what it meant to un­der­stand that our life to­gether as a species is all there is. Dar­win was ap­palled by the im­pli­ca­tions of his work.

The ti­tle of the book sets the tone for his fi­nal sum­ma­tion. ‘‘ The pur­suit of si­lence seems to be a pe­cu­liarly hu­man ac­tiv­ity,’’ Gray writes, rather stat­ing the ob­vi­ous. ‘‘ Other an­i­mals run away from noise, but it is noise made by oth­ers that they try to avoid. Only hu­mans want to si­lence the clam­our in their minds.’’

He quotes Swiss the­olo­gian Max Pi­card’s The World of Si­lence: ‘‘ The si­lence of men is trans­par­ent and bright be­cause it con­fronts the world . . . An­i­mals have a heavy si­lence. Like a block of stone.’’ You guessed it, Gray thinks this is rub­bish. ‘‘ By na­ture volatile and dis­cor­dant, the hu­man an­i­mal looks to si­lence for re­lief from be­ing it­self while other an­i­mals en­joy si­lence as their birthright,’’ he writes.

Which would be lovely if Gray used this as a spring­board for a plea for kind­ness to­wards an­i­mals, for veg­e­tar­i­an­ism, even for an­i­mal rights. But he doesn’t. Af­ter sev­eral more gloomy pages, he has this: ‘‘ If the hu­man mind can ever be re­leased from myth it is not through science, still less through phi­los­o­phy, but in mo­ments of con­tem­pla­tion.’’

Then he pops that bub­ble too. ‘‘ God­less mys­ti­cism,’’ he writes, ‘‘. . . does not dis­solve in­ner con­flict into the false qui­etude of any oceanic calm. All it of­fers is mere be­ing. There is no re­demp­tion from be­ing hu­man.’’

Pass the ra­zor blade. Mind you, if we’re to go down in a death roll with dark mat­ter, there are far deeper thinkers and greater stylists to em­brace.

Heart of Dark­ness, Apoc­a­lypse Now,

John Gray, left, quotes from Joseph Con­rad’s the in­spi­ra­tion for the film above

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