Pieper's interpretation of Plato's late Dialogue Phaedrus, and how Plato's views of where and how divine inspiration comes about, or what he calls "being-beside-oneself". Of all of Pieper's books I have read, thus far, none conjured up similarities of thought to Von Eschenbach's "Parzival", or Joseph campbell, or Allan Watts as this book does. His discription of the complications of staying in the state of "being-besides-oneself" may be the sort of advice Parzival might have used on his first experience of being in the Grail Castle; or, for that matter, for a surfer riding a wave. Pieper says the trouble is, "He can on condition (of being-besides-oneself) that when recieving the impetus born of emotion, he accepts and sustains it in lasting purity. In this context the possibilities of corruption, adulteration, dissimulation, pretension, and psuedo-actualization lie dangeriously close." It reminds me of Joseph Campbell saying "the privilidge of a life-time is being who you are"; or Allan Watts discussing the benifits of living in spontaneity, trusting in one's first thoughts, without the duelistic inner voice of self-doubt that makes one a splintered person; or, for that matter, "The Force"; or, further, the Kaballa's admiration of chaos; or Albert Camus' facination with the absurd. Pieper, in a nutshell, states that this divinely inspired "being-besides-oneself" may come from an unforseen act of chaos or "ecstatic frenzy"; or submission to god, creation; or Poetic mania; or beauty (of a very specific nature). Peiper, seemed to be saying, that like the Holy Grail, this "being-besides-oneslef" is a difficult thing to find if one is, on the whole, consciously looking for it. Pieper seemed to struggle to find a voice for this book, and it didn't seem entirely complete, thus the 4 stars.
This little book lacks Josef Pieper's usually flare, but it is still very good.
The subtitle is very important -- "Plato's Case Against Secular Humanism" -- for it tells us what Peiper is up to. He is arguing against secular humanism which he defines in the following way:
"We do not need any supernatural answers; we ourselves takes care of any psychological problems that call for relief; any "art" that neither satisfies a specific need, even if this need is only entertainment, nor serves the political and technological control of the world is not welcome; and above all, sexuality must not be hindered in its expressions or idealized romantically."
Pieper responds to this anthropology through a careful analysis of Plato's "Phaedrus." His answer can be divided in the following four points:
1. It is only when the human person looses his or her rational sovereignty that he or she can gain a wealth of intuition, light, truth, and insight into the MYSTERY of reality.
2. It is only when we realize that we have inherited the guilt of the human race -- i.e., that in some way, we are all responsible for the moral evils in the world -- can we open ourselves up to Divine Healing.
3. True poetry transcends rationality insofar that is originates in divine inspiration. (Note: this is one of the sub-themes of the Dead Poet's Society.)
4. Natural beauty must be seen as a metaphor for divine beauty. Natural beauty gives us an eschatological awareness by awakening in us a yearning to behold divine beauty.
This book is not very easy to read, but very profound, especially if you are interested in a philosophical starting point for dialogue with modern and post-modern men and women.