Friday, 17 April 2015

"Why Grow Up?" by Susan Neiman: First Thoughts on Reading

Why Grow Up? touches on a broad range of philosophical issues surrounding adult-hood and argues that we should rethink our, often anxious, relationship with the aging process.

Neiman points to the way in which "growing up" has of late acquired a somewhat morose theme: being assosiated with a state of resignation and a lacking of vitality.

By contrast Neimen portrays maturity as a process of constant tribulation through which we learn not only how to co-exist with a morally flawed world but with how to hold on to the will to change it for the better and master our own failings.

Understanding maturity in this way is meant to push away from the cult of youth. A cult, which as Neimman observes, destroys the lived experience of youthfulness by placing too many expectations on young people and neglects the pleasures that arrive in later life as a result of hard earned self-mastery cultivated through ones accumulative life experiences.

Textually the book picks a refreshing choice of topic and its execution and exploration of it is pretty spectacular in places, although there are a number of rhetorical turns that leave me a little un-certain.

Her particular philosophical heritage, Neo-Kantianism with a dash of Rousseau and Leibniz, leads her to support the older Socratic belief  that rational and just actions are one and the same. This equivocality between the good and the reasonable helps Neiman argue her view of childhood and adolescance but leaves her particularly reliant on a certain form of metaphysics. Then again I suppose certain axiomatic truths must be left temporarily un-challenged in order to enjoy the book. Another argument for another day.

Neiman also has an unfortunate tendency to write in a similar manner to Theodor Zeldin (not a particular favourite of mine). Accordingly the book has a fairly scattergun approach to contextualising its themes, flipping between psychological, philosophical and historical discussions at a fairly disorientating rate. As a consequence the references are, though wielded competently, rather thematically disparate; the result is a book that in places has more literary than thematic flow making the work pleasurable in form and wide-ranging in scope but also bewildering.

Overall it's an interesting little piece drawing attention to various authors and ideas surrounding adult-hood which are often over-looked or easily taken for granted: much more philosophically nuanced and well researched than I was expecting.

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