LANDESMAN’S JOURNAL – Book review
D. R. Khashaba
Richard Schain, an independent philosopher who in 1980 renounced his post as professor of neurology and psychiatry at UCLA (see bio below) to devote his life to philosophical reflection and writing, has most recently published Landesman’s Journal: Meditations of a Forest Philosopher, 2016, paperback, $15.41.
In the fictional framework of a journal left by a philosophical wood hermit Schain offers reflections on his long philosophical journey. In essence the book is a self-examination and a summing up of the author’s philosophy of life. The fiction of the philosophical hermit’s journal is sedulously maintained throughout giving unity to the variegated entries. (Below I cite journal entry number, not page number.)
Early in the Journal the author sums up the purpose and justification of his philosophical activities in six little words: “The creation of my inner self”. His philosophy centres on the affirmation of the reality of the soul and on the tendance of the soul as a condition for a proper human life.
The emphasis on the development of the soul is clearly connected with his being himself what he says of his fictional paragon in the Introduction: “a mystic through and through”. So that it comes as no surprise when we find ‘Landesman’ writing: “The most significant experience I have ever had is to find God in my own soul.” (92)
The meditational stream of the journal entries is broken at intervals with ‘autobiographical’ passages. Some of the entries are very personal, moodish one might say. These have their peculiar interest. They are psychological peepholes into the author’s character.
The journal is richly interspersed with excursions into deep metaphysical questions such as immortality and the nature of God. The notion that the soul “after a life experience enriches Divinity, thereby rewarding it for the gift of participation in human life” (17) is original, intriguing, and, to my mind, metaphysically problematic. Further on we read, “Divinity needs human souls for its fulfillment” (25).
Schain\s sources of inspiration are widely variegated, but the span is apparently wider in space than in time: Berdyaev, Kierkegaard, Angelus Silesius, Nietzsche, Shestove, Unamuno, Senancour, to pick some names at random. Of the ancients Heraclitus holds the place of honour.
The style of writing is straightforward with little adornment. Its main merit is its high lucidity, unencumbered with jargon or technicalities, even when dealing with profound metaphysical issues. But now and then a thought cryptically expressed verges on the arcane. Yet wrestling with such a thought cannot fail to be rewarding for the reader.
Even though I cannot go with some of the author’s convictions, I believe he has done philosophical thinking a valuable service in raising metaphysical questions that empiricism and scientism have anathematized.
Schain is justly outraged at the dogmatic materialism of so-called neurophilosophers and insists on the crucial notion of metaphysical reality. Thus this book is a timely challenge to the rampant scientism that is replacing religious superstition with an equally mindless superstition. Academic philosophy, especially in the English-speaking world, has taken philosophy out of life and life out of philosophy. It is heartening to find a philosopher once more addressing issues of humanity.
Incidentally, the author puts his finger on the sore point of philosophy in the English-speaking world, The academic tenure requirements and the peer-review process in philosophical journals fully ensure that no philosophy vibrating with life can sneak into American or British academia.
Schain’s work is a welcome revival of the fine art of the philosophical essay which has sadly been killed by academic erudition and particularly by analytic philosophy. This is philosophy in a new key (to borrow Suzanne K. Langer’s book title) and should be warmly welcomed by anyone desiring to bring philosophy back to life out of the academic morgue.
D. R. Khashaba
September 6, 2016.
Bio (Source: book cover)
Richard Schain obtained A.B. (philosophy) and M.D. degrees from New York University. He trained in neurology at the Yale Medical Center, later serving as professor of neurology and psychiatry at UCLA. He embarked on his life as an independent philosopher in 1980 with the writing of Affirmations of Reality (1982) and Philosophical Artwork (1983). Later writings include Souls Exist (1989, 2013), The Legend of Nietzsche’s Syphilis (2001), Reverence for the Soul (2001), Behold the Philosopher (2007), Interior Lights (2012), and Toward an Existential Philosophy of the Soul (2014). Essays appearing in the electronic journal ‘Philosophy Pathways’ were published as Radical Metaphysics (2002) and In Love with Eternity (2006). All Schain’s philosophical writings deal with the significance of the interior self, which is called the soul. Richard Schain was awarded Foreword Reviews’ 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award, Silver, in Philosophy.