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The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths par [Gray, John]
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Description du produit

Revue de presse

The Silence of Animals is a new kind of book from Gray, a sort of poetic reverie on the human state, on the state, that is, of the human animal ... He blends lyricism with wisdom, humour with admonition, nay-saying with affirmation, making in the process a marvellous statement of what it is to be both an animal and a human in the strange, terrifying and exquisite world into which we straw dogs find ourselves thrown (John Banville Guardian)

Interesting, original and memorable ... The Silence of Animals is a beautifully written book, the product of a strongly questioning mind. It is effectively an anthology with detailed commentary, setting out one rich and suggestive episode after another (Philip Hensher Spectator)

A secular prophet, sensationally truth-telling, clear-sighted and unperturbed by the illusions under which the rest of us labour ... what's more unexpected is how beautifully the unbearable quality of that desperation is evoked (Shahidha Bari Times Higher Education)

Full of richness ... a pleasure to read (Jane Shilling Daily Telegraph)

He takes down utopians of various stripes and then starts wiggling the dentist's drill in the liberal molar ... In Gray's book, it's humanity that is the problem: we need to get over ourselves (Sam Leith Sunday Times)

For all its dark thrills, Gray's aria of negativity is intended to prepare the reader for a revelation. "Nothingness," he writes, "may be our most precious possession" (Talitha Stevenson Evening Standard)

Présentation de l'éditeur

The powerful, beautiful and chilling sequel to the bestselling Straw Dogs

John Gray draws on an extraordinary array of memoirs, poems, fiction and philosophy to make us re-imagine our place in the world. Writers as varied as Ballard, Borges, Freud and Conrad are mesmerised by forms of human extremity - experiences on the outer edge of the possible, or which tip into fantasy and myth. What happens to us when we starve, when we fight, when we are imprisoned? And how do our imaginations leap into worlds way beyond our real experience?

The Silence of Animals is consistently fascinating, filled with unforgettable images and a delight in the conundrum of our existence - an existence which we decorate with countless myths and ideas, where we twist and turn to avoid acknowledging that we too are animals, separated from the others perhaps only by our self-conceit. In the Babel we have created for ourselves, it is the silence of animals that both reproaches and bewitches us.


'The Silence of Animals is a new kind of book from Gray, a sort of poetic reverie on the human state, on the state, that is, of the human animal ... He blends lyricism with wisdom, humour with admonition, nay-saying with affirmation, making in the process a marvellous statement of what it is to be both an animal and a human in the strange, terrifying and exquisite world into which we straw dogs find ourselves thrown' John Banville, Guardian

'Interesting, original and memorable ... The Silence of Animals is a beautifully written book, the product of a strongly questioning mind. It is effectively an anthology with detailed commentary, setting out one rich and suggestive episode after another' Philip Hensher, Spectator

About the author:

John Gray has been Professor of Politics at Oxford University, Visiting Professor at Harvard and Yale and Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics. He now writes full time. His books include False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals and The Immortalization Commission: The Strange Quest to Cheat Death. His selected writings, Gray's Anatomy, was published in 2009.

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  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 240 pages
  • Editeur : Penguin (28 février 2013)
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) (Peut contenir des commentaires issus du programme Early Reviewer Rewards) 4.2 étoiles sur 5 33 commentaires
54 internautes sur 55 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 What to do when faith deserts us? 24 septembre 2013
Par Acorn - Publié sur
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
This new book by John Gray is a meditation on how we deal with the world when our faith in progress and human betterment deserts us. It explores the theme through the prisms of literature, art, philosophy, and to a lesser extent, psychology rather than being a scientific or historical study. As with all of Gray's work, it has some telling insights and observations, and ranges over a fascinating mix of the familiar and obscure to give depth and substance to his ideas.

The Silence of Animals is arranged in three parts. The first looks at the idea of progress and how people's belief in it has disintegrated when faced with human barbarity. The two world wars left ruin in their wake and Gray looks at the reactions of writers such as J G Ballard, Norman Lewis and Stefan Zweig to the rapid disappearance of civilised behaviour in the brutality of war. Barbarism can also emerge from economic crisis: the Great Depression and the inflation in inter-war Germany, and the financial crash of 2008, each destroyed the wealth of countless families. They rendered years of faith in saving and building a future utterly meaningless, even as the alchemists of finance breathed a sigh of relief over their canapés at finding their own fortunes unscathed.

Gray was previously an academic political theorist and he sees authoritarian politics, whether of the left or right, as an attempt to deny the chaos of reality and to fake a sense of order. People like certainty and the dream of a better day to come, and therein perhaps lies the appeal of those charlatans who would have us believe that they can plan and control our future.

In the end, progress is a myth because evolution is about survival, not about constant improvement. Gray characterises evolution as a process of drift rather than a rise to ever greater heights of rationality, peace and order.

In the second part of the book Gray looks at the ideas of Sigmund Freud and in particular his views on myth creation. Freud saw the internal self as forever at war between the forces of Eros (love, creativity) and Thanatos (hatred, destruction). Psychoanalysis can be seen as a process of coming to terms with this perpetual disorder. We might be driven by unconscious forces over which we have no control, but by accepting and trying to recognise them we can attain some degree of autonomy in our lives.

All our constructions of the world are myths of one kind or another. Gray rejects Jung's idea of universal myths and notes that museums are full of old gods that people once thought were eternal and immortal. Our stories about the world change all the time, as do we, and part of Freud's work was to reconcile us with our ever-emergent selves.

Science appears to be different and Gray makes a neat distinction between scientific method, which tests our beliefs against facts, and the way we usually operate which is to select the facts that reinforce our beliefs. We are an incorrigibly irrational lot. But even science is myth-like: any scientific theory only works for a certain period of time before being replaced by another or being rendered irrelevant by a new paradigm. Our understanding of the world is thus made up of changing theories and stories, often inconsistent and sometimes plain barmy, and none of them ever fully explains everything. Spending your days searching for a theory of everything? Get a life.

Given that the world is chaotic and that our stories and theories about it are patchy and ephemeral, how can we best engage with the world? This is the theme of the final section of the book. Here Gray investigates how people have sought to look at the world from different perspectives and analyses two extraordinary books by J A Baker, who tried to see the world through the eyes of animals. He also looks at how people have pursued silence and used meditation, exercises that try to take us out of the hubbub of the world and the manic chatter in our heads. The value of these activities is that they change us and our perceptions of (and enjoyment of) the world.

The world view depicted by Gray might seem to presume pessimism and often Gray's thoughts appear this way, but accepting the chaos of the world and our inability to fully grasp it can also be refreshing and liberating, and can heighten our enjoyment of ourselves, other people and the world about us. Being alive becomes interesting in itself.

There is no discussion of the French existentialist philosophers, and surprisingly no discussion of Buddhism, even though these two have a lot in common with Gray's perspective. The final section of the book felt incomplete as a result. There is also far too little about the human need for certainty in life and how this blinds us to the greater joys of the world. In the first part of the book he consigns the progress myth to the rubbish bin, but if we have to live by myths is the progress one so bad? Public policy, education systems and charitable aid are all built on the lie of progress but they have produced some positive social results. Gray never considers whether some myths might be preferable to others and how we might decide that.

There is a wealth of engrossing detail in this book, supplemented by extensive notes. His exploration of some of the lesser known byways in literature whetted my appetite to pursue them further. Even if you find Gray's views unconvincing, the journey with him is well informed and never dull. This work will inspire you to reflect on how you understand yourself and the world in which you have randomly arrived.
19 internautes sur 20 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 "The surface is everything, below that there is nothing." 9 janvier 2014
Par Pumpjack - Publié sur
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
That's a quote from Llewellyn Powys, younger brother of better known writer John Cowper Powys (Porius, which is on my 2014 reading list). Llewellyn is just one of the many writers and thinkers, most of them obscure (oh, to spend some time in John Gray's library), profiled and sampled and pressed into something new and original and wonderful: The Silence of Animals, on Progress and other Modern Myths.

I love this book. To be fair, I'm a huge John Gray fan, so I pretty much knew I was going to love it from the outset. I was right. By using the lives and words of others to build his arguments and illuminate his world view, Gray creates a haunting, moving dreamscape of thought, a ghostly fortress of logic, that carries readers along to his inescapable conclusions: progress is a myth, humans are animals (and unexceptional animals at that) and we do ourselves a disservice by hiding behind religion and other myths which prevent us from just being ... and therefore being happy.

It's not for everyone. If you enjoy having your belief systems shaken like a martini, or relish in seeing atheism called into question for falling short of the mark, or wonder if faith in science and progress is really just the recycled and misguided faith of the religious, this short, epic, sad, funny, tragic, exasperating, ultimately uplifting book is for you.

Some of my favorite lines:

"According to some historians, inequality in America at the start of the twenty-first century is greater than in the slave-based economy of imperial Rome in the second century. Of course there are differences. Contemporary America is probably less stable than imperial Rome."

"Denying reality in order to preserve a view of the world is not a practice confined to cults. Cognitive dissonance is the normal human condition."

"If there is anything unique about the human animal it is that it has the ability to grow knowledge at an accelerating rate while being chronically incapable of learning from experience."

"A type of atheism that refused to revere humanity would be a genuine advance."

"If you admit your need for silence, you accept that much of your life has been an exercise in distraction."

"Every sentient being is a world-maker."

Don't be fooled by the slender nature of the book, it's packed with enough insights and a-ha moments to remake a dozen worlds, but certainly (hopefully) not in our own image. After all, "there is no redemption from being human. But no redemption is needed."

Gray urges us to look past our mistaken belief in exceptionalism, and past our mistaken certainty that things will get better in some mythical afterlife or in some mythical, distant and never-realized point in the future when science and society finally amend away the bad habits that prevent a utopian existence. The secret, he thinks -- and I agree -- is that those bad habits, and the good ones, ARE us. Always looking to the future prevents us from living fully here and now. Better to understand who we are than to dream impotently about who we could or should be.

A side note: for someone who so ably and vigorously denies the existence of meaning outside of our own existence, his use of and reliance on literature stretching back to early Greek philosophers creates a sort of enveloping sense of meaning that exists outside of and above our own miserable, glorious meaningless lives -- art.
3 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Mr Gray philosophizes with a big hammer 18 février 2015
Par sully - Publié sur
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
John Gray picks up the Nietzschean hammer in this book to smash the idols of "progress", "humanism", "rationality", "Pauline Christianity', and all utopian systems of the twentieth century. He sees humans as irrational animals who come up with one absurd view of reality after another which mostly lead to death and destruction, especially in the besotted twentieth century. There is no hope of either the Christian "redemption" or a future "utopia" and humans will churn their silent animal nature around and around forever. Gray's book expresses a level of pessimism which oddly enough, Nietzsche would find extreme, because Gray certainly does not say; "Yes to Life!" in any sense. Schopenhauer would enjoy this book but even he thought that listening to a fine piece of music would make you feel good in the midst of a horrendous life. The book is the pessimism par excellence. All this is interesting and thought provoking and makes this book a true smashing hammer.
I like how he conflates humanism and Christianity in their mutual conception of progress. This is a very good insight on his part which seems lost in today's black and white viewpoints. Many Christian radicals disparage humanism and progress as their enemy yet don't see these ideas run through some of their thinking. Likewise, humanist progressives in their desire to separate themselves from the Christian viewpoint don't acknowledge where some of their ideas came from.
One thing I didn't like about this book is how extensively Mr Gray quotes from authors who are explicating views he feels are backing his overall perspective. Many of the quotes go on for much too long in a short book. I wanted to read more of his analysis rather than large quotes of other authors and thinkers.
I would have liked to have Mr Gray at least admit that humans have made progress with plumbing. A flush toilet is very superior to an outhouse. I think Schopenhauer and Nietzsche would agree with me on that and tell Mr Gray to lighten up a bit.
1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A masterpiece of philosophy. It demolishes the modernity's so-called certainties and moves towards an embrace of disorder. 28 juillet 2016
Par Umer Vakil - Publié sur
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
This collection of essays was a dense read, but it must be read more than once. I couldn't help but underlining a couple of lines - simply so I could return to them later. Their value comes from the incredible eloquence with which the dominant ideologies of Western history are critiqued. For Gray, in the end, the only solace humans can find is in contemplation - but not as a key to seek redemption from being human , but as a path towards new perspectives on a disorderly world.

What I love is his ability to unify such large bodies of thoughts, underline their underlying ideas, express them - and then highlight the conflict between these philosophies with other philosophies - or their (oft non-obvious) common assumptions.

His most important contribution to thought is the succinct take-down of one of the biggest myths of the modern world: that progress, be it material or moral, is at heads with religion. For him, progress is simply an extension of the Christian belief in history's trajectory converging to an event. Even the Socratic tradition of finding redemption in Knowledge - or in that case - Science, is also a belief in eventual salvation. This is in opposition to the ancient Egyptians or Greeks, who thought that "nothing was new under the sun". Ancient pagans did not see the world divided between "civilized" in tune with progress, and the "savage", not in tune with it - but as humanity as a single entity always at war with itself.

To Gray, Liberal Humanism happens to be myth, a strange mythological force that is denial of its own mythological status due its scorn for religion. Humanism as a philosophy takes a few claims as self-evident and bases itself on these axioms: "that a rational life is devoid of myths... that moral progress, even if incremental, is possible...that humans are inherently freedom loving", although an observation of history's embrace of countless tyrants almost immediately refutes this central axiom. Fortunately, history has no goal or direction and these assumptions can easily be shown to be defective through simple reasoning by the likes of philosophers such as Gray.

Of course, these two dominant thoughts are only the unique targets in a few essays. Freud's and Nietzsche's anti-humanism is looked at with far more sympathy - a philosophy embracing internal struggle, and not settling for ultimate salvation. Freud’s philosophy is at complete odds with the Socratic tradition: Socrates thought that logic and thought can lead to self-understanding, leading to goodness, while Freud maintained that the mind is inherently illogical - and redemption through knowledge too is mythological ideal. These aren’t abstract debates restricted to earlier decades, modern social scientists - economists, psychologists and so on feel that the science can capture the intricacies of human thought, and that this understanding itself constitutes progress. The same can be said of the Positive Psychology and New Age movements, the Romantic movement described by T.E. Hulme… all that believe that humans have an endless potential that can be utilized. Most dominant ideologies are dissected by Gray, and either partially embraced or brutally dismissed.

I have read some reviews that claim that the economic effects of progress such as environmental destruction etc. are ignored by Gray - but this is a philosophical treatise, and it doesn’t hold that those factors are not important. In fact, I’m sure he has covered these aspects in his other books.

A review of all the ideas in this book would take pages and pages - but no summary will ever do this book justice. I’ve done a rather poor job covering them, almost deliberately since summaries tend to be ineloquent and ugly.

The crust of this book and its mission of contemplation (though not maybe exactly the contemplation Gray had in mind) can be taken by Gray’s mention of J.A. Baker in his essay “Another Sunlight”. Baker tried to observe a hawk he was watching and enter its field of vision, looking at the world a new light “The hawk was Baker’s point of exit from the human world. ‘I have always longed to be a part the outward life, … Seen through a hawk’s eyes the works of humans had the look of natural things.” Gray says: “People who love other creatures are often accused of anthropomorphize them. This was not true of Baker. Rather than anthropomorphize other species, Baker tried the experiment of anthropomorphize himself. Seeing the world as he imagined hawks might see it, he was able at times to be something other than he had been. He too raced to oblivion, losing himself as he followed the peregrine.”
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Necessary component to modern relativist thinking. 29 juin 2015
Par KoalaFace - Publié sur
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
I was skeptical, I generally don't read modern philosophy. It's usually watered down concepts rehashed from 19th century thinkers. I was wrong. John Grey delves deep into contemporary humanist thought, claiming that on a secular view we can be no different than the animals we claim to put ourselves above. He doesn't leave religion alone either, making an assessment on the human drive for faith and submission to a higher power beyond all reason and rationale.

Grey uses case studies in defending his points, specifically the chaos that ensued in Italy during the heart of WWII, describing how men had altered their value scales in determining what is "moral" and making the determination that the justice of survival trumped conventional ethics.

Grey's book makes the reader take a step back and assess where human beings stand on the value scale in this universe. Without a deity, are we honestly any better or higher in value than animals? Grey says "no", our values are all the same. When a dog is backed into a corner Hell bite and humans won't hesitate to do the same. Ethics and value judgements are merely a convenient novelty, but are subjective given the situation.

This is a much needed look into our times, a necessary perception of the humanist movement that barely has a philosophical leg to stand on. The implications drawn from the realization of the facts presented here will (hopefully) cause the reader to slow down and truly interpret the ideology of our generation and determine whether the logical conclusion (whatever it may be) is worth the path society is set upon.
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