Putting Puzzle Pieces in Place


Michelangelo c. 1530-1534

Putting Puzzle Pieces in Place

Today I finished a good part of what I had to do to prepare the first book I ever wrote, A Good Look at Evil, to reappear in the world. This meant writing a new Preface, sanding the edges of the two new chapters so that they would fit neatly into the whole, and preparing an additional Index for the new material.

When the puzzle awaits its missing pieces, you slide them into place. The motivation, the reason you do it, follows from the work. It’s built into it. The puzzle pieces fit.

What was the fit that I looked for here? I had written two essays that were endless trouble to get published as separate articles in academic journals. One was too long for me even to dare to submit it.   The other was short enough to submit, but too super-charged for editors to be willing to own, in the sense of saying to the world, that’s the article I decided to publish in my journal.

A Good Look at Evil maintained that we really live stories. They aren’t fictions. We don’t make them up. They unfold in their own ways, with their own rhythms. We only learn the plot lines as we go along. We don’t need to inflate or dramatize anything. The drama is inherent in our lives. It gets disclosed in the daylight of our days, the way Michelangelo saw his Kneeling Boy in the block of marble. It was already there. All he had to do was disclose it.

As the plot lines unfold, we learn more about who we are – the person whose story this is. Evil is the deliberate, conscious, intentional effort to take down our story. I defended this thesis in the book, against critics of every kind, as one must in philosophy. The illustrative cases were drawn from personal life and from history.

What do the new chapters add? The chapter called “Spoiling One’s Story” concerns a well-known public intellectual who had a larger-than-life influence on educated people’s opinions on the topic of evil. In the original book, I disagreed with her then-quite-fashionable views. Since that time, documents have come to light supplying weighty evidence that the consequential views — on which her eloquence bestowed such wide acceptability — were not only wrong but dishonest.

The last chapter brings into the book an element that I had carefully kept out of it till now. No matter what you profess to believe or to doubt, everyone secretly wonders:

Is there a God?

Does God play any part in the story of my life? What would count as evidence one way or the other?

In the chapter titled, “God and the Care for One’s Story,” I tell two stories, both true – one a matter of public record – and set down reasons to take them as evidence for God’s having played a part.

Originally, I intended it as a separate article and submitted it to appropriate academic journals. As a result of those submissions, I have a sheaf of the most remarkable rejection letters. The editors and referees didn’t express doubt as to the truth of what I reported. Often they would characterize me as a “good philosopher.” They would praise the originality of the piece and its writing style. Frequently, they would express personal misgivings about rejecting the essay. They would wonder if they were doing the right thing or if they would regret it later. So help me,

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, this offer to reprint A Good Look at Evil presented itself.   The two recent essays fit like puzzle pieces into an updated edition of the book. Whereas articles in journals generally reach only a narrow, specialized readership, a book has the potential to reach a wider public.

The philosophic issues haven’t gone away. Evil hasn’t gotten stale. It’s alive, well and prevalent as ever.

As for me,

I’m still slidin’ the puzzle pieces into place.

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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2 Responses to Putting Puzzle Pieces in Place

  1. Judy Dornstreich says:

    As a long-time rejector of the idea that God is the puppeteer, pulling the strings of our life stories, I am now considering the possibility that this may not be so clear-cut. Perhaps there might be some Nudges along the way. Which can make “all the difference” depending on one’s own free response. Some of us dullards even get two Nudges on one particular curve in the road, due to lack of attention or other factors. So would God then be considered playing a part, or does it the concept change to “partnership”?

    • Abigail says:

      Judy dear! So good to have your chiming in. God is certainly not a boring character in a science fiction movie controlling our molecules and our outcomes. At the very least, God is interesting. If the ideal relationship would involve partnering up, that seems to suggest that God is already there, playing a part of some interesting but not-always-obvious kind.

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