REVIEW by Helen Elliot
Text Publishing, 2013
Daniel Klein’s dentist told him that his teeth needed seeing to. A year of visits; some seeing to. Not to speak of the money involved. Klein, an American, a professional philosopher, academic and writer started ruminating (on his teeth).
He was seventy-three, his life was sweet , or sweet enough as it was. Going for the expensive teeth meant that other things in his life wouldn’t happen and at his age time was not infinite. So what if the alternative teeth, a mouth full of moveable clackers, gave him the slightly goofy smile of an old man. He was an old man. And why was he being made to feel there was something wrong with that? Why is old age seen as a condition and not accepted as a “stage of life”?
Klein’s decision not to have his teeth done was one of a series of deliberate moves as he tried to free himself from the striving of the Forever Young. Who isn’t aware of it in their own lives? Klein defines that terror we have of just letting go and being who we might be at a certain stage in life. Life might be about the journey but sometimes there is arrival and that, too, can be savoured. Klein writes of the joy of play, of rolling around the floor with his dog, of playing patiently with grandchildren, of the pleasure of having friends because you like them just for who they are, not what they might do for you. He also suggests that it is possible to put aside the need to make a permanent mark on the world. He writes about the pleasures of reflection on a well- lived life in a laidback fashion despite drawing on the complex ideas of Sartre and Kant as well as his favourite Greek philosophers. Epicurus who talked about “a life well-lived.” Is his favourite.
Klein wrote this book when he returned to the Greek Island he lived-on for a year when he was young. He took a swag of useful books but he also observed and talked with the people on the island, noting how their simple lives reflected acceptance of every stage of life. His view of the Greek life is romanticized and there is a paradox that a man who advocates not striving finds it necessary to write another book but this book is easily the best book I have read about taking life as it comes, about the value of friendship and of allowing yourself to be who you are at this time in a well-lived life.
Helen Elliott is a thoughtful and analytical reader, informed and soulful writer and unyielding literary critic for many Australian newspapers. She is also a dedicated gardener.
Photo Source: Stairs marksinthemargin blog.
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