DESMOND, William. The Intimate Strangeness of Being: Metaphysics after Dialectic. Studies in Philosophy and the History of Philosophy, vol. 56. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2012. xi + 312 pp. Cloth, $69.95--Desmond's latest book gathers together essays written from 1994 to the present around a central purpose: to recover metaphysics in response to its almost complete rejection in postmodern thought by recalling its original vocation. This vocation can be described as a disciplined and passionate (from patior, to undergo) mindfulness of being, which requires an "esprit de finesse" (Pascal) that avoids the sterility of both an empty skepticism and a narrow dogmatism. Kant mistakenly identified metaphysics generally with the rationalism of his teachers, and postmodern philosophers have tended to take his dismissal of metaphysics as an unquestioned starting point. Desmond demonstrates, however, that these postmodern thinkers are no less metaphysical than the tradition they often mindlessly critique, for the simple reason that philosophy is inescapably metaphysical: metaphysics is a mindfulness of being, and there is no place, no matter how radical one's questioning, outside of being. This does not mean, however, that the systemizers have the last word. The central point around which Desmond's book turns is that being is a mystery both intimate and strange: it is never something we can conceptually master, and at the same time it is not an absolutely alienating "other."
Metaphysics, properly understood, is not the triumph of rationalism, but in fact a vigilance against such reductions: "The matter is not being a postmetaphysician but being a good metaphysician, under the call of truthful fidelity to the sourcing powers of the 'to be.'" The more deeply we enter into the mystery of being, the more open we become to mystery and, at the same time, the more our confidence (from con-tides) in reason grows.
The book is made up of ten chapters, which are grouped into three parts. Part One considers the equivocities of dialectic. The three chapters that comprise this part reflect on the various meanings that "dialectic" has had in the philosophical tradition. In its "Hegelian" form, dialectic seeks to move beyond, without simply eliminating, the alternatives of a rationalistic "pure univocity" and an irrationalistic "pure equivocity." While Desmond affirms what is positive in Hegelian dialectic, he points out that there is an inexorable progression in modern dialectic from indeterminacy through determination to self-determination, which is interpreted as a move from the essentially imperfect to the perfect. In contrast to the impoverished negativity of indeterminacy, and its subsequent overcoming, Desmond proposes a fourth category, namely, the "overdeterminate," or in some contexts a "surplus immediacy," which is a superabundance of meaning that does not need to be overcome, and therefore is never left behind. Where Hegel ultimately has to absorb art and religion into philosophy, Desmond argues that, because thinking draws its life from this superabundant meaning, philosophy remains positively related to its "others," art and religion, from the beginning and all the way to the end. …