‘Ours is an age of nihilism’


From The New York Times:

The reading of “Moby-Dick” is the most exciting and provocative part of “All Things Shining.” The authors see Ahab’s determination as “the wicked core of his monomaniacal monotheism,” and they understand the novel as a stirring critique of the modern search for an existential foundation.

“At the center of Melville’s understanding of the whale is the idea that there is no meaning to the universe hidden behind its surface events, that the surface events themselves” are all there is. This is vital and important, but 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?

Mr. Dreyfus and Mr. Kelly invoke these gods because they want us to receive something really deep and powerful, and they give the example of being overwhelmed by emotions in crowds. But then they awkwardly depart from their poems, novels and plays to cite feelings of oneness in a crowd watching Roger Federer play tennis! Can privileged, happy spectators really stand as an antidote for the general affliction of modernity? Is “whooshing” along with a crowd the philosophers’ cure for nihilism or just its expression?

“The Classics as the Antidote to Modern Malaise”, Michael Roth, The New York Times