Soon after my book about the Greek mystic philosopher Plotinus was published, I sent a copy off to the Bryn Mawr Classical Review. Since I managed to write “Return to the One” without any formal education in the classics or Greek philosophy, I figured it would be cool to even have a chance of being reviewed by an entity that “publishes timely reviews of current scholarly work in the field of classical studies.”
I’m fairly happy with the review. Applying editing techniques similar to those used in writing movie ads, I’ll be able to make good use of Dr. Bowe’s positive comments: Written in a fresh and accessible style…surprisingly sane, clear-headed, and well-written. Well, maybe I should leave out “surprisingly,” which Bowe apparently threw in because of my “idiosyncrasy of presentation” and “jarring insistence of naming all 43 sub-sections with alliterative subtitles.”
Hey! I should get extra credit for those subtitles (God is the Goal, Love is Limitless, Beauty is Beyond, and so on). You can’t believe how long it took me to find alliterations for every one of those 43 subjects. My dictionary was exceedingly well-thumbed by the time I got to the final “Vision is Veracity” chapter.
I could also quibble with some other critiques in the review. I might send off a response to the Bryn Mawr folks on a few points where I feel Dr. Bowe, well, missed the point. Most notably, he doesn’t appreciate my emphasis on looking upon Plotinus as a mystic who urges us to experience the metaphysical truths described in the Enneads, as opposed to intellectually understanding them.
Right on p. xvii, before the book even starts using regular numbers on the pages, I said: “I do believe that it is possible to know the spiritual truths that Plotinus knew, but only if we inwardly become our true selves, which will be found to be identical with Plotinus’s true self. This obviously separates my approach from most scholars, for they poke and probe Plotinus’s teachings as if they were external objects of knowledge akin to fossils excavated from an ancient riverbed, which is exactly how Plotinus says we should not consider his philosophy.”
So when Dr. Bowe laments that I fail to discuss how Plotinus’s teachings were influenced by Aristotle, Parmenides, and other philosophers, I don’t feel that I failed to be true to the heart of Plotinus’s mystical message. Plotinus doesn’t want us to think our way to wisdom, but to intuit our way to union with the One—the ultimate source of all that is good, true, and beautiful.
All in all, though, I’m pleased that Dr. Bowe took the time to read and review a book by a non-scholar. I entirely agree with him that my approach limits “the text’s usefulness to Plotinus scholarship.” I never intended that “Return to the One” be a scholarly book. It is a book aimed at those who want to really return to the One, not just think about returning.