In “How to Keep From Losing Your Mind,” Deal W. Hudson sets out to not merely defend—in a traditional and philosophical sense—Western thought but also to share the beauty of culture and the approach he took as he was writing, namely that of “a mounting sense of joy.”
How to Keep From Losing Your Mind: Educating Yourself Classically to Survive Cultural Indoctrination, by Deal W. Hudson (Tan Books, 2019, 384 pages)
The onslaught of the constant news cycle, social media, and meaningless information has decreased the possibility in seeing true knowledge and wisdom. The fact that the fast speed of the Internet and what we can find there has made us more miserable is not exactly new. In fact, saying this has in itself become a cliché. But just because nobody seems to be listening, it does not make it any less true.
Social media, television’s ‘talking heads,’ and so-called Twitter wars are not the only problem. More than anything, there is a pervasive ideology at play in the American society today, which denies the recognition of the true, the good, and the beautiful. Whatever we want to call it—identity politics, multi-culturalism, or post-modernism—it has rendered the transcendent reality of life meaningless. But not all is lost!
In his new book, How to Keep From Losing Your Mind: Educating Yourself Classically to Survive Cultural Indoctrination (Tan Books, 2019), Deal W. Hudson tells his readers that they don’t have to lose their minds as they sift through the variety of information, not knowing what is knowledge, wisdom, or ideology. Mr. Hudson sets out to not merely defend (in a traditional and philosophical sense) Western thought but also to share the beauty of culture and the approach he took as he was writing, namely that of “a mounting sense of joy.”
Like most books that defend the literary and philosophical canon, How to Keep From Losing Your Mind gives the reader many lists of works that need visiting and re-visiting as well as the ways to go about it. As Mr. Hudson writes, “The most important criteria to use in determining greatness [of the Arts] is the opinion of experts… but it should be said, experts are not always right… [and] all lists measuring greatness are subject to reconsideration—the truly great remain on the list with the passing of centuries.”
Mr. Hudson gives the reader a sense of freedom of mind and choice but he is, of course, still firm on what greatness is and his arguments are strong. The readers’ age is of no concern either because learning is open to everyone. In this sense, his work is very much similar to intellectual efforts of Mortimer Adler, James Schall, Josef Pieper, Ralph McInerny, or Jean Guitton. But in Mr. Hudson’s case, there is an added element in the book: depth of personal experience and emotion accompanied with reflections on great books, films, and music.
This is not to diminish the efforts of those who came before him but Mr. Hudson’s willingness to move beyond the intellect, open up his own mind and soul to the reader (“At the age of seventeen, I was fortunate to have met a teacher who transformed my mind and, as a consequence, my entire life. He was the janitor at my high school in Fort Worth, Texas,” who introduced Mr. Hudson to Plato), and recognize his own and the reader’s interiority is what makes this book quite unique. Reading, watching, listening—all of these are part of a human journey in trying to find meaning in the world that is often devoid of the transcendent. Great books help us find the meaning because they deal with perennial ideas and questions of “morality, truth, justice, love, death, and eternity.”
Mr. Hudson diagnoses the problem of our society and presents us with excellent analysis of the intellectual and spiritual destructions brought on by contemporary ideological movements. Singling out identity politics and multiculturalism, Mr. Hudson goes to the root of the problem, namely post-modernism. This is what gave us a “post-truth” world, and the proponents of post-modernism are merely “concerned with reinterpreting truths regarding human nature, morality, social norms, and values. In other words, they want to revisit and reconstruct what it means to be human.”
Part of this is recognizing what goes on in the halls of academia, and the sheer ignorance and denial of history, which leads students toward an inability to recognize real totalitarianism when they see it. One of the biggest issues in education today is the fact that young students are not aware of the evil of Communism, and thus, they are, mindlessly, perpetuating their ‘teachers’’ slogans and lies.
What is to be done besides taking a closer look at the list of great films and books? First, we must engage in what Mr. Hudson calls “detachment.” To involve ourselves with the Arts honestly and truthfully, we must learn “not to care.” Inspired by T. S. Eliot’s poem, “Ash Wednesday,” Mr. Hudson was struck by two lines, in which the poet addresses God: “Teach us to care and not to care/Teach us to sit still.” Mr. Hudson’s warns us to not confuse this with indifference because that will render us incomplete and perhaps even, confused. Rather, “freedom requires the habit of detachment, the ability not to be swept away by the zeitgeist…without detachment, a person’s attention wanders to and from whatever is in the news.” It’s important to “sit still” and reflect and not be thrown into and led by the stormy waters of ideology, which takes us further away from the shore of wisdom.
Mr. Hudson’s book is like a perfect symphony, composed of separate movements that shows us darkness but also the light. Like Beethoven’s Ninth (which is naturally part of the musical canon), Mr. Hudson’s work ends with the revisiting of C. S. Lewis’ The Four Loves. Lewis’ book takes on “the framework for the four loves from the ancient Greeks: Storge (love between parent and child), Philia (friendship), Eros (desire), and Agape (charity, or divine love).” Writing about each love, Mr. Hudson uses examples, such as Richard Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, Ingmar Bergman’s film, Autumn Sonata (1978), Dana Gioia’s powerful poem about the death of his young child, “Special Treatments Ward,” Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Beethoven’s Ninth, Plato’s Symposium, Hitchcock’s masterpiece of obsessive and destructive eros, Vertigo (1958), David Lynch’s The Straight Story (1999), Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Ordet (1955)—the list goes on and it is magnificent, and Mr. Hudson does it in such a way that honors each work. He holds it gently in his hands with immense gratitude and wonder, recognizing the brilliant efforts of artists and philosophers.
This book is truly a labor of love that encompasses the entirety of what it means to be human, and it firmly rejects deconstructive categories that reduce people to mere constructs. Ending his book with a moving reflection on Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Mr. Hudson writes that “We lose our minds when that desire [to know God] is derailed, when we are seduced by simple-minded, lopsided, or inverted worldviews.” In his work, the reader will find new paths to learning and will be able to recognize theoretical destructions of the true, the good, and the beautiful, as well as evaluating great works of art and philosophy. But Mr. Hudson’s book isn’t only about how not to lose your mind in the age of ideology. Most importantly, this rich volume is about how not to lose your heart as well.
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