The featured audiobook is ‘The Art of Being’ by Erich Fromm which is a translation of Fromm’s original work. Fromm introduces his work as one that provides the beginnings of a guidance on living. He is keen to point out that he is providing pointers and nothing more thus avoiding dogmatism.
There are some overarching themes in this book. Firstly I thought that Fromm was heavily influenced by Freud as he frequently refers to him throughout the book. Fromm refers to psychoanalysis and his knowledge in this area is evident in his writing and a number of assumptions from this field are taken as read. In so doing the reader is able to make use of the insights that Fromm has gained during his time in the field of psychoanalysis. However Fromm brings his insights from other areas as well emphasising that it is necessary to do so having had experience in these areas. Thus he talks of Zen Buddhism and focuses on meditation.
However the main theme in his book is that with materialism has come a tendency for people to focus on possessing rather than ‘being’. In this book his aim is to guide the reader in the direction of being rather than having. He refers to ‘Individual Narcissism’ in contemporary society and describes the various guises in which narcissism may manifest and characterises this as a product of an industrial society. Fromm builds up an argument in which Industrialisation is a contemporary issue which has only recently given rise to the need to possess, contrasting this with knowledge about early societies. At times however, I felt Fromm’s generalisations were unhelpful.
Fromm focuses on the ‘sham in salvation’ those areas of personal growth that have been turned over to commercialisation and writes that he was hesitant to publish this chapter. Along the way he writes
‘in a completely commercialised society in which saleability and optimal profit constitute the core values and in which every person experiences himself as capital that he has to invest on the market with the aim of optimal profit – success, his inner value counts as little as a dental cream’
Fromm also asks the reader to guard against the need for instant gratification and the use of technology. He argues for instance that technology covers up the frailty of the person. He argues that people are increasingly able to achieve more because of an increasing mastery of nature but that does not mean that people themselves are becoming more powerful. Indeed he argues that the contrary is the case, that without writing, people would make better use of their memory for instance. He also writes that with increasing industrialisation of work processes there is less scope for creativity and thinking in individual roles in the work place. However a number of these arguments are too simple. For instance, society is multifaceted, and various subcultures may not reflect the trends in wider society. The development of new tools, computers for instance, has not made work roles much simpler but instead has added layers of complexity and with these new layers come new demands.
Fromm suggests a number of approaches to the reader including meditation, awareness, concentration, psychoanalysis, self-analysis and the art of being rather than having – and for the reader to be content with being. While there are many oversimplifications here, Fromm does eruditely consider a number of issues important to contemporary society and which will probably remain so.
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