Letters to the Editor

by Luke Fischer, David Macauley, and Tony Hughes-d’Aeth
November 2021, no. 437

Letters to the Editor

by Luke Fischer, David Macauley, and Tony Hughes-d’Aeth
November 2021, no. 437

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Conceptual containers

Dear Editor,

We are grateful to Tony Hughes-d’Aeth for his review (ABR, October 2021) of our co-edited volume The Seasons: Philosophical, literary, and environmental perspectives (SUNY Press, 2021), but would like to indicate some misrepresentations. The first is that the volume is ‘grounded in forms of analytic philosophy’. Among the eleven contributors, five are specialists in Continental philosophy. Paola-Ludovika Coriando is a leading Heidegger scholar. Alphonso Lingis is a pre-eminent Continental philosopher in North America. The contributions by literary scholars also almost exclusively refer to Continental philosophy. This is not a work of ‘analytic philosophy’.

Hughes-d’Aeth seizes upon a passing metaphor of a ‘conceptual container’ and projects that onto an array of diverse chapters. He claims that the seasons are treated as an abstract ‘transcendental category’, when all the essays articulate the importance of embodied approaches to the seasons. One of the primary motivations for this book was the absence of the seasons within philosophical discourse, but Hughes-d’Aeth doesn’t really engage with its philosophical or even environmental aspects.

In Australian literary debates, the term ‘romanticism’ is frequently employed in vague, uninformative ways. Hughes-d’Aeth illustrates this in how he questions the prominence of figures from Goethe and Thoreau to Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Rachel Carson, whom he groups as ‘romantics’ and as remaining ‘within the long shadow of European romanticism’. There is much scholarship on whether even Goethe should be conceived as a romantic or as a classicist, and Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty are primarily regarded as phenomenologists and existentialists/ontologists. Hughes-d’Aeth specifies neither how these figures belong to one tradition of ‘romantic imagination’, nor the respects in which this tradition is problematic. His use of ‘romanticism’ thereby amounts to little more than ‘the modern tradition of Western thought’ and insinuates that the volume is too focused on European and North American perspectives. But is this the case?

We were pleased by Hughes-d’Aeth’s appreciation of the three essays that engage with Australian Aboriginal seasons (especially the Noongar seasons of WA). As the volume was published in North America and one of the editors is American, this representation is significant. Moreover, these essays all draw on major figures within the Continental and ‘Romantic’ tradition (Thoreau, Heidegger, and Bachelard) as aids in advancing a decolonised perspective. They thereby undermine the simplistic dichotomy between ‘romantic’ and non-Western perspectives that frames Hughes-d’Aeth’s critique.

Two essays (by Alphonso Lingis and Joseph Ballan) respectively explore Sámi and Inuit conceptions of the Arctic seasons. Given Hughes-d’Aeth’s interest in Indigenous perspectives, it’s surprising that they are unmentioned in his review. Jo Law considers Japanese (as well as Chinese) seasons. In short, while the volume discusses Western conceptions of the seasons, much of it engages with non-Western and Indigenous perspectives.

Hughes-d’Aeth raises the issue of climate change but does not consider the discussions of how attentiveness to the seasons could improve our understanding of the issue. Rod Giblett, for example, makes the thought-provoking proposal that ‘climate change’ would be better construed as ‘seasonal dislocation’ or ‘seasonal disruption’.

Luke Fischer and David Macauley

 

Tony Hughes-d’Aeth replies:

It seems the editors of this fascinating volume have now written their own review to complement mine. I am glad I was able to provide them with this opportunity as, to my knowledge, there is currently no magazine which specialises in auto-reviews. In my review I tried to succinctly represent the logic of the book, which is not easy in an eclectic collection such as this, where most contributors have not, in all probability, read each other’s contributions. In reading the book, there was precious little evidence of internal awareness, as several chapters blithely overlapped each other without even a passing nod. I also tried to fairly assess the book’s strengths and weaknesses for the sake of ABR’s readers. It would have been interesting if, in their letter of response, the editors were bound by the same imperative.

 

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