A Washington Post Notable Work of Nonfiction
“Imagining the End suggests, in a sober yet hopeful spirit, how mourning, rightly understood, can give meaning to our lives in the disenchanted times in which we find ourselves. In exploring the hopes that have failed us, the projects that have run into the sand, the loves we have lost, the attachments that have come to an end—a work of what amounts to creative mourning—we can develop a stance in the here and how from which the psyche can look outward and flourish. As he did earlier in his explorations of what it can mean to hope, Jonathan Lear here expands and deepens our understanding of what it can mean to mourn.”
—J. M. Coetzee, Nobel Laureate
A leading philosopher explores the ethics and psychology of flourishing during times of personal and collective crisis.
Imagine the end of the world. Now think about the end—the purpose—of life. They’re different exercises, but in Jonathan Lear’s profound reflection on mourning and meaning, these two kinds of thinking are also connected: related ways of exploring some of our deepest questions about individual and collective values and the enigmatic nature of the good.
Lear is one of the most distinctive intellectual voices in America, a philosopher and psychoanalyst who draws from ancient and modern thought, personal history, and everyday experience to help us think about how we can flourish, or fail to, in a world of flux and finitude that we only weakly control. His range is on full display in Imagining the End as he explores seemingly disparate concerns to challenge how we respond to loss, crisis, and hope.
He considers our bewilderment in the face of planetary catastrophe. He examines the role of the humanities in expanding our imaginative and emotional repertoire. He asks how we might live with the realization that cultures, to which we traditionally turn for solace, are themselves vulnerable. He explores how mourning can help us thrive, the role of moral exemplars in shaping our sense of the good, and the place of gratitude in human life. Along the way, he touches on figures as diverse as Aristotle, Abraham Lincoln, Sigmund Freud, and the British royals Harry and Meghan.
Written with Lear’s characteristic elegance, philosophical depth, and psychological perceptiveness, Imagining the End is a powerful meditation on persistence in an age of turbulence and anxiety.
Lear is a lovely and subtle writer, someone who has a rare capacity to introduce ways of seeing and interrogating the world that dignify our confusion and pain while also opening up new possibilities for moving forward…There are no answers in Imagining the End, or in most of Lear’s work. There are no recipes for maturity. Or plans for a stable peace in Ukraine. What his work does give us is an example of how to engage in the world with extraordinary care.
Lear moves agilely among the ideas of such philosophers as Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein while using the insights of psychoanalysis to explore the human drive to create meaning…[A] wondrous and humanizing book.
Offers provocative reflections on flourishing in the face of existential and civilizational challenges.
Imagining the End suggests, in a sober yet hopeful spirit, how mourning, rightly understood, can give meaning to our lives in the disenchanted times in which we find ourselves. In exploring the hopes that have failed us, the projects that have run into the sand, the loves we have lost, the attachments that have come to an end—a work of what amounts to creative mourning—we can develop a stance in the here and how from which the psyche can look outward and flourish. As he did earlier in his explorations of what it can mean to hope, Jonathan Lear here expands and deepens our understanding of what it can mean to mourn.
A deeply insightful and thought-enriching work by one of the most original philosophers writing today. Imagining the End is acutely aware of the danger we stand in of finding ourselves on an uninhabitable planet. But Lear is also aware of how the consciousness of impending loss can bring out the illumination inherent in meaningful life, often occluded in day-to-day living.
A greatly original treatment of central issues of human life—issues which have taken on new importance as we have become sharply aware of the vulnerability of life on this planet. Lear’s writing reshapes our understanding of where philosophy can take us.
Mourning, as Jonathan Lear shows, has always been a way of remembering that can add something new to the world. Imagining the End takes a hard look at the contemporary grounds of despair—for a person, a group, or a species—but it conveys hope by the accuracy of its imaginings. Lear’s treatment here of a great subject of moral psychology is characteristically subtle and inventive.
In a world buffeted by multiple catastrophes, from gun violence to the destructive effects of climate change, psychoanalyst and philosopher Lear offers a hopeful path through grief and confusion.
An utterly distinctive work of moral philosophy, less an analysis of the threat climate change poses to our environment than to our estimation of ourselves…Lear’s writing [is] alive with the pleasure, inquisitiveness, and openness to surprise that it recommends.
Anyone interested in mourning—and since we are all mourners, that leaves no one out—should read this book.
An elegant set of essays…[Each] is a lapidary exercise in precisely ordered, original, and aesthetically pleasing writing. The emphasis on ethical exemplars drawing on Aristotle’s virtue ethics is also a refreshing departure from the abstract principle-based approach to ethics which dominates, for example, American bioethics.
The humanities, says Lear, are dedicated to conserving our best accounts of what it is to be human, ‘human’ in the normative, Aristotelian sense. They are an especially productive form of mourning. They mourn because they look on a glory that is past, they are productive because, if practiced well, they ‘conserve’ that past glory…[A] valuable book.
- 176 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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