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The Shape of Ancient Thought concisely, and in this case 731 pages is concise, organizes the views that not only shaped past thinkers, but unveils a mutually dependent history that (for better or worse) has shaped our current environment. The student of visual culture (and if I may add the student of higher education in general) should have a handle on these ancient philosophical ideas and practices without which digesting much of the current tropes becomes a difficult task, or goes uneaten. To understand more fully, to be apart, and to participate in today's current cutting edge discussions a scholar as well as an arts professional needs to have filtered through the basic yet voluminous ideas that McEvilley collects in this book, but maybe more emphatically, that Tom McEvilley proposes the cross pollination of ancient philosophy, and in signposting the course, the reader is better prepared to do their own combinational work in today's demanding climate.
This work breaks new ground in areas where crackpot thinking would be all too likely. I would, however, consider the lack of any consideration of a still more intractable riddle, that of the Axial Age, which might clarify the inability of diffusionist arguments to fully succeed here. More is going on than simple diffusion of 'ideas'. In general, proof of diffusion still falls short of explanation, and in a simpler case, Greek Archaic sculpture shows obvious affinities to the Egyptian, yet this does not explain the timing or later development. In the same way we must wonder if the effects to be explained proceed as 'thoughts of a philosopher' as much as the 'self-consciousness' of the 'philo-sophist' or 'man of consciousness'. In Heraclitus we see the spectrum in mid range, half yogi, half philosopher, and the Indian echo, however mysterious still, is somehow transparent.
Fascinating book in a treacherous field. One might disagree but the focus on these problems is essential, however difficult their answers.
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Please write _Les_ Levine in the next issue
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Granted, there aren't many intro texts on recent art. So if this is one of the "better" ones, it's mostly for lack of competition. I wish there was some accessible middle ground between pop/gossip texts and academic tomes. This feels like it's written from someone really distant to the work, who's not always that well-informed.
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This is one of several of McEvilley's theoretical constructions where he goes about important issues way too easily.
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