"Buzzing Blooming Confusion"

Spurred by a very positive assessment by Garry Wills in The New York Review, I purchased and read Robert Richardson's marvelous intellectual biography of William James, William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism.

Though the book approaches James' life through his intellectual work, plenty of that lived life tumbles out as well. James' philosophical celebration of process and radical pluralism is, no doubt, also a reflection of his own felt experience as "buzzing blooming confusion."

Though I find Richardson too uncritical of James' intellectual stances, and share some of the criticisms of James formulated early on by his colleague, friend, and philosophical adversary, Josiah Royce (on whose religious philosophy I wrote my doctoral dissertation), the book is a tour de force and has given me hours of pleasure -- while sharing a bit in James' inveterate insomnia.

And William (like brother Henry) could write! Here is a late musement, based on his own lived experience:

To anyone who has ever looked on the face of a dead child or parent, the mere fact that matter could have taken for a time that precious form, ought to make matter sacred ever after. It makes no difference what the principle of life may be, material or immaterial, matter at any rate co-operates, lends itself to all life's purposes. That beloved incarnation was among matter's possibilities.

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.

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