The book manages to open up the philosophical dustbin from Aristotle to Kant to Deleuze to show how our basic questions about life have been shaped. The basic premise is that we are caught between searching for a principle of life and instances of life. Aristotle the metaphysician explored the former while Aristotle the biologist collected samples of the latter. Essentially, we are stuck with a contradiction because a principle of life somehow has to be beyond individual living things. This leads to three basic outlets - "The impasse here has to do with whether or not any attempt to resolve the contradiction sublimates Life [the principle] into something else: Life as indistinguishable from divine, sovereign Creation (theology); Life as subordinate to Being (metaphysics); or Life as pure description and classification (biology). In each instance, Life dissipates into God, Being, or the living." (P. 90)
Many of the detours in telling this long history of struggle with this contradiction through Neoplatonic thought, the Pseudo-Dionysius, the Scholastics, Kant, onto Bataille, among many others, and topically into non-Western thinkers range from highly convoluted to boldly thought-provoking. The emphasis varies over the three streams of theology, philosophy, and biology. The early arguments focus on theology and the plenitude of the principle of Life contained in the writings of early thinkers. There is little direct treatment of biology except to highlight the parallels between certain research trends and theological/philosophical ideas. In its broadest perspective the book puts forward the relative importance of a philosophical perspective on the question of the meaning of Life as compared to both theology (Life as spirit) and biology (Life as description and classification).
An important sub-theme is the nature of thought and whether it is Life's thinking itself or just what is it's relation to Life vs. the living problematic. The title, After Life, relates to what surplus of Life is possible beyond what we see in existing living creatures (i.e., those creatures that have never existed but could under some principle of Life), as I understood it.
The author does a magnificent job of bringing a vast swath of largely ignored literature "to life" to current questions about life's nature and its relation to larger questions. Much of the literature is esoteric or mystical. Unfortunately, at least from my perspective, the end result is a menu of exciting ideas exposed like a bunch of coiled ropes lying around but without a clear sense of where to weave a new synthesis. Between the author's encyclopedic breakdown of so many thinkers and the resulting suggestion that the question of life is an important, tangled mess, an apt description of the book is that it is a history of philosophy through the lens of the question What is life?