Zygmunt Bauman: The Art of Life – Review

[From Janaury] So in an extremely coincidental turn of events (for me) Bauman died the day after I finished this book. It was the first of his I’ve read and although this review isn’t the most positive I still feel it’s necessary to add my condolences. RIP to a great man.

Interesting in parts but on the whole fairly uneventful. The key theme of the book is that in order to come to terms with our ‘liquid modern’ world, we must view ourselves as ‘artists of life’:

So we are all artists of our lives – knowingly or not, willingly or not, like it or not. To be an artist means to give form and shape to what otherwise would be shapeless or formless. To manipulate probabilities. To impose an ‘order’ on what other would be ‘chaos’: to ‘organize’ an otherwise chaotic – random, haphazard and so unpredictable – collection of things and events by making certain events more likely to happen than all the others

The way he forms these ideas from a variety of philosophical and modern sociological sources was definitely interesting but I felt there was a little lack of focus on the whole. The idea of a ‘liquid modernity’ – a modernity that is constantly shifting; where values, relationships, and commitments are no longer fixed for more than a short period of time – is hardly a revolutionary one. Nevertheless there were definitely some gems of insight here and some extremely pretty passages. For example:

All things of the body stream away like a river, all things of the mind are dreams and delusions… What then can escort us on our way? One thing, one thing only: philosophy.

I particularly liked the introduction in which we get a brief overview of different conceptions of happiness through the history of philosophy, and later the anecdote of replacing the ‘uprooting’ of identity with a ‘reanchoring’ of identity:

Indeed, unlike in the case of ‘uprooting’ and ‘disembedding’, there is nothing irrevocable, let alone ultimate, in drawing up an anchor. When they are torn out of the soul in which they drew, roots are likely desiccate, killing the plant they nourished and making its revival border on the miraculous – anchors are drawn up only to be cast out again, and they can be cast out with a similar ease at many different, near or distant ports of all.

Definitely some post-modern influence here. (I’m sure the Deleuzians would be happy to see people getting away from those pesky arborescent roots!)

Overall I would say it was a fairly enjoyable read, but it lacked that lacked that spark of profundity that any good work of philosophy hits you with. Maybe I’m being slightly harsh but I think 3* is fair. In general I don’t think I’ll be coming back to Bauman’s work any time soon.