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This book can best be described as an extended meditation on suffering, phenomenological in method and dialectical in point of view. The angle the author takes is that of moral self-examination rather that conventional scholarly inquiry, and his aim is to think through and evaluate a fundamental claim of our culture, from Aeschylus to Solzhenitsyn, that suffering is the greatest spiritual teacher.
To bring the argument closer to home, Professor Miller focuses on the experience of crisis as the undermining of our attempts, at all costs, to keep control of our lives. This leads him to discuss topics such as the nature of vulnerability, the difference -- as sketched by Heidegger -- between ordinary fear and metaphysical dread, the ordinary avoidance of suffering, and the heroic willingness to embrace it exemplified by Nietzsche's "Thus Spake Zarathustra."
But this is a philosophical essay, not a historical monograph, and Miller's goal is to lead the reader ever deeper in to the heart of crisis where all our illusions about control are stripped away and we forced to face, like Oedipus, the harshest reality of all: that even our existence is not something we can claim as our own. It is here, and only here, Miller claims, the issue of religious conversion can be and must be seriously faced.
This is a demanding book, as exhilarating as it is relentless in its unmasking of the evasions and duplicities with which we shore up our day-to-day lives. The late William F. Lynch, SJ, author of "Christ and Apollo," called it "a profoundly moral study of man." To read it is to risk changing your life.
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