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Graham, G.D. (2009). Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation. By Jonathan Lear. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006, 208 pp., $22.95.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 57(3):741-745.

(2009). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 57(3):741-745

Book Reviews: Perspectives

Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation. By Jonathan Lear. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006, 208 pp., $22.95.

Review by:
Gregory D. Graham

The meaning, value, and even existence of the Crow Indians' identity was disintegrating in the mid-1880s. For these traditionally nomadic hunters, the buffalo had all but vanished and the warriors who had counted victorious achievements over enemies as great honors—coups—had been overpowered by the United States military and government. The nomadic way of life was replaced by life confined to the reservation, the warrior ethic prohibited. Chief Plenty Coups, in recounting this history to Frank Linderman many years later, suggested a prícis of the collapse of Crow culture: “after this nothing happened.” One interpretation of this statement might be that for the wise old chief, Crow history itself seemed to stop when life was restricted to the reservation—but there is more to it than this. Plenty Coups's synopsis represents the beginning of Jonathan Lear's philosophical meditation Radical Hope. For Lear two fundamental questions arise in this context. Can a tribe (and its individual members) suffer such profound cultural devastation and survive (1) ethically—On what basis can we live well and our life have meaning?— and (2) ontologically—How is it possible to exist as a subject, exist as a nation, in the absence of familiar parameters of conceiving of one's being and one's existence as a person or a tribe? Lear intends his approach to address the grounds for hope when devastating circumstances and profound cultural loss dominate the historical moment. In this way Lear is suggesting not just a meditation on the human predicament of the Crow and their leaders; he is also proposing an approach that raises fundamental philosophical questions in historical contexts demanding radical selfexamination. Implicitly, he challenges the reader to think beyond the Crow and to think ethically for him- or herself. Taking this further, we might wonder, for example, whether he is also raising questions about the current state of psychoanalysis.

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