Beyond Fate

Beyond Fate

Book - 2002
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Many people today are afflicted with a sense that they cannot change things for the better. They feel helpless, constrained, caught -- in a word, fatalistic. Beyond Fate examines why. In her characteristically lively prose, Margaret Visser investigates what fate means to us, and where the propensity to believe in it and accept it comes from. She takes an ancient metaphor where time is "seen" and spoken of as though it were space and examines how this way of picturing reality can be a useful tool to think with - or, on the other hand, how it may lead people into disastrous misunderstandings. By observing how fatalism expresses itself in one's daily life, in everything from table manners to shopping to sport, the book proposes ways to limit its influence. Beyond Fate provides a timely and provocative perspective on modern life, both personal and social.
Publisher: Toronto : House of Anansi Press, 2002
ISBN: 9780887846793
Branch Call Number: 001.3 V83b
Characteristics: 169 pages ; 21 cm


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Jun 30, 2011

I was a little disappointed with the first lecture. I wrestled with what I didn't like, and I tentatively think that I found that her style of oral presentation had not translated well to the written word. A bit too repetitive, and a few too many returns to the opening theme. Which was too bad, I thought, because her premise is an excellent one: that we, as citizens of a 'free' society are using that freedom to choose to revert back to being victims of fate, which we have chosen to call 'globalization' or 'technoloighy' or 'meaninglessness.'

Visser examines how the Greek (and hence Roman) thinking was rooted in fate via the ideals of honour/shame, place/revenge, and how that zeitgeist imprisons the citizenry in a status quo concomitantly with endless cycles of honour saving revenge.

Visser articulates the idea with the image of a line contrasted against the closed line (circle). By the end of the book she has tied the idea very well to present practices and habits of thought.

An example of one of these interesting and important points she makes in the first lecture is the role that Christian beliefs founded in Judaism had in breaking the trap of the shame/revenge cycle.

The second lecture, 'Fate and Furies' redeems the book. It is simply brilliant but not as good as the third lecture, 'Free Fall.' Visser articulates the difference between shame and guilt and why knowing the difference is important. Shame is conferred onto the person by the society — it requires an audience. Guilt, on the other hand, is felt by the individual, and is invisible to the society. This is important, Visser argues, because shame demands a revenge in order to recover the lost honour, whereas guilt demands self knowledge and repentance. It also allows for, but does not demand, forgiveness. The former binds the person to his or her fate, whereas the latter allows for the individual to change and grow. Guilt, repentance and forgiveness empowers the individual to move beyond his/her own failings and to redeem his or herself, i.e. to grow, independently of how the society sees that person. Fate does not allow for that, and Visser effectively argues that we are societally reverting to fate language, fateful thinking, and feelings of being imprisoned by forces beyond our abilities.

To see my extended review, and citations, see

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