|Acumen Publishing Ltd|
the guardian Fri 17 October 2008
How many sorts of hunger are there? Tallis counts a hunger for food, a hunger for pleasure, a hunger for other people - "Everybody's got a hungry heart", as Bruce Springsteen noted - and a fourth, "spiritual" hunger, for happiness or at least a bulwark against futility. This last seems to be the general target of Acumen's new The Art of Living series, in which philosophers write on aspects of contemporary life.
Writing against the "biologism" that "sees human hungers as essentially unreformed animal instincts", Tallis argues that human consciousness and culture mean our hunger cannot be reduced to mere physical need. Against the cliché that man reverts to his "true", brute nature when hungry, Tallis discusses Primo Levi's account of Auschwitz: "What we see under those appalling circumstances are human causes and human effects."
In high style, and with occasional jokes, the book discusses foodism and eating disorders, sex and pornography and the culture of consumerism, citing Pascal, Hegel and Spinoza along the way. The enemy is the "Dominion of And" - in which mere appetite, rather than hunger, is temporarily sated by one damn thing after another. The antidote might be art, or even philosophy. Now, what else should we consider part of the "art of living"?