A solid, no-nonsense entry in the Wiley-Blackwell "Philosophy and Pop Culture" series. Perhaps as successful as it is due to the richness of the subject matter along with the imagination of the contributors. Minor detractions due to a handful of weak essays, typos, outright errors, and the occasional use of foul language and familiar tone. Nevertheless, well-worth one's time and money.
Clocking in at 292 pages, this book's collection of nineteen essays is presented in seven parts or "round robins", to match the bowling theme in the movie. Each part has two to four essays, but with the exception of Part Four, whose essays deal with nihilism and existentialism, the parts don't really focus on specific themes. Of the nineteen essays, four were weak (chps. 11, 14, 18, and 19), and a fifth (chp. 2), although well-written and informative, demanded a bit of a stretch in the application of its philosophical ideas to the movie.
There are four characteristics of these essays that make this a solid collection. First, the essays do a superb job of identifying a theme in the movie (based either on specific events or the overall mood) and applying a philosophical idea to it. Indeed, some of these essays will make you believe that their theme is the one true way of understanding the movie. Second, most of the essays are well-written and get to the point quickly; that is, we are given the essay's thesis within the first page, and the contributor develops the application of philosophy to the thesis well. Third, the essays rely on a diverse group of philosophers, many of whom are contemporary. It's good to see that philosophy didn't end with Nietzsche, that there were and are philosophers who have made contributions within the last hundred years. Finally, overall, the reader is given a wide range of philosophical ideas and views, not only within the traditional Western canon, but also a taste of Eastern philosophy and Judaism. Although none of the essays were tallmanesque (and no sign of either Ruth Tallman or Brandon Kempner in this collection), most were solid and well-written.
There are quite a number of themes explored in this collection. Among them are: Aristotle's ideas on virtue ethics, eudaimonia (flourishing, or happiness), and the need for true friends (chps. 1, 3, 4, & 8); nihilism and existentialism (chps. 9, 10, & 11); various takes on the Dude's character: as feminist ally (chp. 14), as Buddhist or Daoist (chp. 6), as pre-Oedipal narcissist (chp 12), and as Epicurean (chp. 5). Other topics covered were mathematical logic (chp. 2), the rules of aggression (chp. 7, and Hugo Grotius finally got mentioned!), Kierkegaardian irony (chp. 13), the nature of sloth (chp. 15), and Jewish identity and the philosophy of history (chp. 19).
Morgan Rempel's "Epicurus and `Contented Poverty': 'The Big Lebowski' as Epicurean Parable" demonstrates how the Dude's life is an example of the Epicurean ideal of "complete contentedness and freedom from physical and mental disturbance", or "ataraxia".
Joseph J. Lynch's "Buddhism, Daoism, and Dudeism" applies Eastern philosophy to the life of the Dude. Is the Dude a Buddhist? A Daoist? Or something all his own? Read this essay and find out.
Bryan N. Baird's "Existentialism, Absurdity, and `The Big Lebowski'" gives an excellent explanation of the idea of the absurd from both Camus' and Sartre's points of view. For Camus, the absurd is an encounter with the unfamiliar that shows that the world is devoid of meaning. For Sartre, absurdity arises from the recognition that the values through which we engage the world ultimately lack any real-world justification.
Jeffrey Nicholas' "Bowling Our Way out of Nihilism" explore Charles Taylor's three malaises of modernity (disenchantment, disengagement, and atomism), and shows that by engaging in "practices" one can help build communities and find meaning in the world. A "practice" is a "coherent and complex form of socially established... human activity." Like bowling.
Julie Dufort and Roseline Lemire-Cadieux' "In the Dude, I Abide: Being an Achiever at Lebowski Fest" introduces the reader to the difference between irony and Kierkegaardian irony while being taken on an insider's view of a "Lebowski Fest". Yes, there is a difference, like night and day. I enjoyed this one immensely.
Nicolas Michaud's "'Well, I Do Work, Sir': The Dude and the Value of Sloth" asks if "slowness", such as the Dude's, can be virtuous. Virtue involves moderation, and although slowness in and of itself may not be virtuous, determining when to be "slow" may be a virtue. A good essay that identified a great theme, and found a way to develop it in a philosophical light. I also enjoyed learning about the worldwide "slow movement".
THAT OF WHICH I COULD NOT ABIDE
Craig Jackson's "'The Big Lebowski' and Mathematical Logic" did a great job of explaining Godel's work in mathematical logic, but strangely tried to draw parallels between that and the life of the Dude as a "formal system". A bit of a stretch that lacked any snap.
Ben Almassi's "'Mr. Treehorn Treats Objects Like Women, Man': The Dude as Feminist Ally" was unfocused and scatter-brained. Lots of segues, and lots of "appetizers, but no main course". We jump from masculinity to feminism to different types of justice. Indeed, Note 12 at the end of the essay should have been the focus of this essay. During the essay, we are introduced to the "Bechdel Test", which is only explained in the Notes. It sounds like a test for whether a movie is a chick flick.
Clancy Smith's "Hippies, Jews, and the Philosophy of Memory" was weak and unsatisfying, and also scatter-brained. Mr. Smith mentioned Charles Sherover and his philosophy of time, yet neglects to mention Henri Bergson.
Joseph A. Edelheit's "'I Don't Roll on Shabbas!': Jewish Identity and the Meaning of History in `The Big Lebowski'", had no depth of development, but did manage to go on a name-dropping spree.
The biggest disappointment was editor Peter S. Fosl's joint effort with Evan Brown, "Bowling, Despair, and American Nihilism". The "curse of the book's editor" strikes again! The essay picks and chooses ideas, presenting them in a disjointed fashion, and doesn't really develop the theme. The essay does not focus on nihilism, it segues to existentialism, then social commentary. To top it all off, let's not forget that conservatives are evil, (p. 150, "empty and hypocritical Reagan ideals"). No worries, Mr. Fosl, Ronald Reagan wishes you well.
I have to mention this: in Daniel P. Malloy's "'Am I Wrong?': Walter's Will to Believe", Mr. Malloy states that the Dude's rug is the "McGuffin" (Hitchcock reference). I beg to disagree, Mr. Malloy. Bunny Lebowski is the real McGuffin.
Finally, the full title of this book is "The Big Lebowski and Philosophy: Keeping Your Mind Limber with Abiding Wisdom". "To abide" is to "bear patiently", "to endure without yielding". "Abiding" means "permanent, enduring, lasting". I think it's a bit of a stretch to use the word "abiding", the connotation of each word is different. Words mean things, else what's a dictionary for?
Fans of the movie may have a set idea of what the movie, and the Dude, are all about. This book shows that there can be more than one interpretation, and that each can be solidly backed up with a heavy dose of philosophy. A solid entry in the "Philosophy and Pop Culture" series, this book will make true fans of the movie see it again as if for the first time... or first acid flashback. Four stars. John V. Karavitis