Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn's "Ars Vitae"

Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn is professor of history at Syracuse University. She is the author of a number of essays and books, including Black Neighbors (winner of the Berkshire prize) and Race Experts.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Ars Vitae: The Fate of Inwardness and the Return of the Ancient Arts of Living, and reported the following:
A reader glancing through Ars Vitae (Latin for the art of living) and lingering on page 99 would find a brief introduction to a movement I describe in my second chapter, “A New Stoicism.” At the top of the page a paragraph mentions just a handful of the institutions, websites, and events that signal a resurgence of interest in our times in the ancient school of philosophy of Stoicism, which the chapter goes on to explore. At the bottom of the page, after the subheading “Ancient Stoicism,” a paragraph begins introducing the ancient school and some of its concepts and early luminaries.

Browsers would get a surprisingly accurate sense of the book as a whole through this window onto Stoicism, ancient and modern. Ars Vitae explores the ancient and contemporary versions of five movements or schools of thought—Gnosticism (a religious movement) and the Greco-Roman schools of Stoicism, Epicureanism, Cynicism, and Platonism—treated in each of the five main chapters of the book. By encapsulating the ancient and modern Stoic movements for the purpose of launching Chapter Two on the New Stoicism, page 99 suggests the organization of each of the chapters, which begin by introducing the modern renewal of interest, go back in time to delve into the ancient movement, and come forward again to investigate the new form of the school of thought. This page even suggests the organization of the book itself, which begins with an Introduction describing what I see as a new cultural movement we can discern in both popular culture and scholarly sources today, a kind of new classicism, and then goes back in each chapter to pick up main themes of the ancient schools and forward to assess the significance of the contemporary echoes and reverberations of those schools and, by the Epilogue, the movement as a whole.

This browser’s shortcut reveals a great deal about the book by presenting in miniature the design, conceptualization, and structure of argumentation—of our philosophical adventure, as one reader has described it. For a reader leafing through the volume, page 99 might act as a tiny microcosm of the work as a whole. I hope it, like the Introduction and the introductory sections of each chapter, might pique the reader’s interest with the fascinating signs of a resurgence of interest in ancient Greco-Roman philosophies of eudaemonia, happiness or well-being. I hope these pages might feel like an invitation to explore these schools of thought together via total immersion and partake in an ancient yet enduring conversation about how to live. Such an adventure can allow for deeper explorations of life questions than those of the more fleeting or superficial forms of self-help in our contemporary therapeutic and consumer culture and can help us in these fraught and divisive times to consider more practical and meaningful alternatives.
Learn more about Ars Vitae at the the University of Notre Dame Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue