It would be easy, and not entirely wrong, to consider Berlinski primarily a critic of the nihilism of the contemporary world. Which is to say that there are seams of energy running through his work hinting at a humanizing drive beyond merely the desire to argue a point. And so, as iconoclastic as he appears, he stands aloof but not alone. He’s in a distinguished crowd that consists of, among other people: Byung-Chul Han, Roberto Callasso, Theodore Dalrymple, and even the novelists Laszlo Krasznahorkai and Michel Houellebecq. Among contemporary philosophers, he is closest, perhaps, to John Gray, Thomas Nagel, and the late Jerry Fodor: all men who have refused easy answers, and the last two, like him, formidable critics of Darwinism. Berlinski argues forcefully, but every argument also contains an oblique gesture towards the vast mystery of human existence. Oblique gestures, after all, are the ritualistic movements through which humanity itself is cultivated.
Human Nature contains polemical essays and short interviews, but it’s also studded with gnomic parables. There’s the story of a rabbi who makes a deal with the devil to be wiser than he should. There’s the Borges-esque allegory of a blind man, a devoted wife, and a book which contains all knowledge. There’s the tale of a hotel with an infinite number of rooms. These are really the lifeblood of Human Nature, and, one gets the strong sense, the passion of Berlinski, mathematician, scholar, and wisdom-seeker. The parable of the rabbi, his brain turned to mush through the nearly divine ability to see, and commit fully, to the “other side” of any argument ends with the same lesson that Eliot taught us: Humankind cannot bear very much reality. Still, Berlinski teaches us, we do require at least a modicum of truth.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor