The Fate of Inwardness and the Return of the Ancient Arts of Living
432 pages, 6.00 x 9.00
Hardcover | 9780268108892 | October 2020
eBook (EPUB) | 9780268108915 | October 2020
eBook (Web PDF) | 9780268108922 | October 2020
The ancient Roman philosopher Cicero wrote that philosophy is ars vitae, the art of living. Today, signs of stress and duress point to a full-fledged crisis for individuals and communities while current modes of making sense of our lives prove inadequate. Yet, in this time of alienation and spiritual longing, we can glimpse signs of a renewed interest in ancient approaches to the art of living.
In this ambitious and timely book, Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn engages both general readers and scholars on the topic of well-being. She examines the reappearance of ancient philosophical thought in contemporary American culture, probing whether new stirrings of Gnosticism, Stoicism, Epicureanism, Cynicism, and Platonism present a true alternative to our current therapeutic culture of self-help and consumerism, which elevates the self’s needs and desires yet fails to deliver on its promises of happiness and healing. Do the ancient philosophies represent a counter-tradition to today’s culture, auguring a new cultural vibrancy, or do they merely solidify a modern way of life that has little use for inwardness—the cultivation of an inner life—stemming from those older traditions? Tracing the contours of this cultural resurgence and exploring a range of sources, from scholarship to self-help manuals, films, and other artifacts of popular culture, this book sees the different schools as organically interrelated and asks whether, taken together, they can point us in important new directions.
Ars Vitae sounds a clarion call to take back philosophy as part of our everyday lives. It proposes a way to do so, sifting through the ruins of long-forgotten and recent history alike for any shards helpful in piecing together the coherence of a moral framework that allows us ways to move forward toward the life we want and need.
Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn is professor of history at Syracuse University. She is the author of a number of essays and books, including Black Neighbors (winner of the Berkshire prize) and Race Experts.
"At a time when we are all too aware of the absence of a web of meaning to guide our life, it helps to draw on the moral resources provided by what Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn calls the 'ancient arts of living.' She takes us on a philosophical journey to give us insights into the predicament we face in our inward life. After reading her beautifully written Ars Vitae, you, too, will want to embark on such a journey." —Frank Furedi, author of Why Borders Matter
“Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn displays here an amazing familiarity with a vast and technical scholarly literature on ancient philosophy—not only on its relevance to everyday life in present-day America. Her understanding of such sources is juxtaposed with her insight into present-day popular culture—it’s all quite astonishing. If ever a book deserved publishing, it is this one.” —Daniel Walker Howe, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of What Hath God Wrought
“In Ars Vitae, Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn provides a new way for us to think about the ways in which modern Americans strive to find meaning in, and strive to realize the potential of, their lives. The book sets into relief the peculiar ways in which Americans grasp at the question of how to live and ultimately calls for a new inwardness in American life. This is a masterwork of a book.” —Susan McWilliams Barndt, author of The American Road Trip and American Political Thought
"An astute archeologist of ideas, Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn spies the finest remnants of our classical past lurking within the motley mess of contemporary life. In Ars Vitae, she reminds us, as Faulkner once did, that the past is not dead and that the old Greco-Roman approaches to the art of living still constellate our thoughts and customize our actions, consciously or not." —David Bosworth, author of Conscientious Thinking