David Bentley Hart on Marilynne Robinson

Several years ago, David Bentley Hart wrote a review (it was here) of Marilynne Robinson’s book Absence of Mind. He ventriloquizes Robinson, posing this question:

In the end, perhaps the most penetrating question Robinson asks in regard to all the modern schools of suspicion is, simply enough: why? That is, if purely material, purely selfish impulses underlie all those behaviors we mistake for selfless altruism or spiritual longing or magnanimity or self-outpouring love, why do they so utterly invert themselves in our conscious minds? Why do they dissimulate themselves as the very opposite of what they are? Let us assume that the conscious mind, with all of its ambiguities and mysteries and abyssal sense of identity, is nothing but the illusory and superficial epiphenomenon of some hidden, unitary, primordial, and amoral material impulse towards survival. Very well, then, but why would it have to hide this fact? Surely it would have no need to deceive itself so elaborately, or to conceal its own genetic interests from itself, unless it already possessed some kind of moral sensitivity to the shame of selfishness. What, then, is that moral self that is there “before” the Darwinian self, whose conscience must be appeased, needing to believe that it is moved by altruism or disinterested love?

I’m mostly just going to leave this here (mostly), as Hart is always profitable to interact with, whether one loves him or hates him, whether one thinks he is taking up one perspectival option within the secular modern world, is attacking it (whether restoratively for good or reactionarily for ill), or is simply expressing its growth pangs. Is Hart being fair?

One thought on “David Bentley Hart on Marilynne Robinson

  1. Pingback: David Bentley Hart on Heidegger: Modernity-as-Nihilism | Into the Clarities

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