The publications from The School of Life imprint further the same basic project: bring brisk, philosophically inflected practicality to universal dilemmas. There have been six books published in the series so far, one written by de Botton, the rest adopting his authorial technique. How to Stay Sane by Philippa Perry, epitomizes the worst tendencies of this formula: it amounts to little more than philosopher name-dropping with poorly written exegesis. “Socrates stated that ‘The unexamined life is not worth living,’” she writes. “This is an extreme stance, but I do believe that the continuing development of a non-judgemental, self-observing part of ourselves is crucial for our wisdom and sanity.” The whole book is composed of this kind of grinding obviousness, bizarrely sprinkled with a King Lear line, a Martin Buber quote, or a Wagner reference.
Perry’s sentences are often so banal as to be parodic: “A group of people I find I always learn from are children, as they can offer us fresh eyes on the world and a new perspective”; “When I go away on holiday to a new place I feel refreshed by having been stimulated by new sights, smells, environments and culture”; “Each of us comes from a mother and a father, or from a sperm bank, and each of us was brought up by our parents or by people standing in for them.” The clunking truisms seem intended to give the book a straightforward tone, but instead leave the prose sounding lobotomized.
The author’s apparently robust mental health also makes her a dubious expert on her topic; no psychic discomfort more serious than indigestion seems to have troubled Perry. In one anecdote, an interior design magazine tips her equilibrium: “I felt dissatisfied. I found I was dreaming of replacing all my furniture. What was I doing? … I was breathing shallowly.” So Perry puts the magazine down, goes for a swim, and all is right. But, wait, she has darker moments: “I have noticed, as I play Bridge or Scrabble against a computer, or Sudoko for an hour at a time, that my emotional side feels cut off.” Those with more complex neuroses may find themselves less than convinced by the transformative power of Perry’s exercises.
Victoria Beale. Philosophy is SO AWESOME.