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Absence of Mind (Terry Lectures) (The Terry Lectures) [Paperback]

Marilynne Robinson
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 July 2011 The Terry Lectures
In this ambitious book, acclaimed writer Marilynne Robinson applies her astute intellect to some of the most vexing topics in the history of human thought - science, religion, and consciousness. Crafted with the same care and insight as her award-winning novels, "Absence of Mind" challenges postmodern atheists who crusade against religion under the banner of science. In Robinson's view, scientific reasoning does not denote a sense of logical infallibility, as thinkers like Richard Dawkins might suggest. Instead, in its purest form, science represents a search for answers. It engages the problem of knowledge, an aspect of the mystery of consciousness, rather than providing a simple and final model of reality. By defending the importance of individual reflection, Robinson celebrates the power and variety of human consciousness in the tradition of William James. She explores the nature of subjectivity and considers the culture in which Sigmund Freud was situated and its influence on his model of self and civilization. Through keen interpretations of language, emotion, science, and poetry, "Absence of Mind" restores human consciousness to its central place in the religion-science debate.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (1 July 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300171471
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300171471
  • Product Dimensions: 19.3 x 12.7 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 267,135 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Marilynne Robinson was born in 1947. Her first novel, Housekeeping (1981) received the PEN/Hemingway award for best first novel as well as being nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Her second novel, GILEAD, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and her third, HOME, won the Orange Prize for Fiction.

Product Description


"'Robinson makes the case with exceptional elegance and authority - the authority not only of one of the unmistakably great novelists of the age but of a clear and logical mind that is wholly intolerant of intellectual cliche... This book has a greater density (and sophistication) of argument than many three times its length; but it is one of the most significant contributions yet to the current quarrels about faith, science and rationality.' (Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, Daily Telegraph) 'I'm enjoying arguing and agreeing with Marilynne Robinson's Absence of Mind.' (Zadie Smith, The Observer) 'Robinson's argument is prophetic, profound, eloquent, succinct, powerful and timely.' (Karen Armstrong, The Guardian) 'I have barely scratched the surface of this dense and yet endlessly entertaining little book. Marilynne Robinson is herself the best evidence of her own thesis - the exceptional mystery of the human mind'. (Bryan Appleyard, Literary Review) 'I enjoyed reading Absence of Mind. The reason: it is always a pleasure to keep company with a person who takes ideas seriously.' (Siri Hustvedt, Financial Times) 'Robinson is one of the greatest Christian thinkers alive today... Absence of Mind is a slim but compelling volume.' (Luke Coppen, Catholic Herald)"

About the Author

Marilynne Robinson is the author of Gilead, winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for fiction; Home, winner of the 2009 Orange Prize for Fiction; and Housekeeping, winner of the 1982 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for first fiction. She is also the author of two books of nonfiction, Mother Country and The Death of Adam. She teaches at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop and lives in Iowa City.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Absence of Mind 23 Aug 2010
Those who know Marilynne Robinson's sublime fiction will expect a level of description and analysis that gets to the very heart of anything she addresses. She does this brilliantly. Absence of Mind is difficult, the result of deep and wide philosophical and scientific reading, but thrilling in a truly intellectual sense. I have just read it and know I will have to read it again. Taking on what she calls the 'parascience'of popular writers about science as Dawkins, Dennett, Pinker, and E. O. Wilson, by way of Descartes, Nietzsche, Freud and others, Robinson's main contention is that in the reductive, mechanistic, neo-evolutionary world view that has prevailed since Darwin, what has been ignored is humankind's interiority, consciousness of self, in all its terror and beauty. Her rebuttals to what she sees as this current received orthdoxy are intricate and subtle. Her analyis of 'the altruism problem' is masterly.
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36 of 50 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Absence of Mind 14 Aug 2010
By Antenna TOP 500 REVIEWER
In reading this slim volume of four lectures, I wanted, as an atheist, to see what powerful arguments this award-winning author would bring to bear against the modern movement to use a scientific approach to refute religion. I was somewhat disappointed by the limited scope of her attack on say, Dawkins or Pinker. Behind the grammatically perfect but convoluted sentences, peppered with "hermeneuticization" and "autochthonous", her thesis seems to be that the "objectivity" of science is sterile and rigid in its denial of the aspects of the human mind that one might wish to label "the soul". Also, the very objectivity or "correctness" of science is itself open to question, since e.g. the world of physics is continually challenged and changed.

I agree with her reservations over the wave of "parascientific literature", which I take to be "pop psychology" which increasingly tells us what to think and replaces religion for some people, even affects the world of work, through "management training" and "performance management".

One of the most interesting sections for me is the presentation of Freud as a man whose theories may well have been in a part a reaction to the persecuted status of the Jews in Europe. I do not know what support this theory might find with experts.

Her choice of thinkers on whom to focus - Freud, Darwin, Comte, William James, Dawkins, Dennett, etc. assumes a good level of prior knowledge. In a lecture this may be fair enough. Yet I feel that the book falls between two stools. To make a mark with lay readers, there is a need for more explanation of philosophical ideas. For those already familiar with the ideas cited, her message seems rather slight.
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12 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the mind 9 Aug 2010
Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self (Terry Lectures) is a rational critique of the reductionist view of the mind proposed by some philosophers. Rather like a choir the mind is greater than the sum of its part.A thought provoking well argued series of essays.
Great stuff.
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11 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking 12 Aug 2010
By brunty
moving and rational, if the two can go together. Brilliant re-assertion of traditional values in public and private intercourse. Wonderful.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unenthusiastuc 1 April 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book of four esseys derives from four lectures. Robinson uses rather long convoluted sentences, which probably came over more clearly when lecturing. However I do commend the book if only for its good final chapter! The first three are interesting, but not entirely consequential. What does come over several times is Robinson's antipathy towards any form of parascience. She ends with an acknowledgement of the great mystery that human life presents.
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