In The Art of Losing Control, Jules Evans is concerned with ecstasy – “Can we learn to lose control safely,” he asks, “or is it always dangerous?” In ten chapters and 250 pages of compact type, he makes a clear case for this basic human need and concludes that without it we, as a species, are in danger.
This is Evans’ second book after Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations about Ancient Greek philosophy. As a modern day philosopher and stoic with a high profile (he runs The London Philosophy Club, and is a Research Fellow at the University of London), he has some considerable authority in the field, which is not immediately apparent as I plough my way through the first half. This is partly because he can be dismissive of views he does not understand (“all sorts of nonsense, from horoscopes to… “), and partly because it is a mixture of formal and informal writing, where one minute there is a first hand account of an orgy and the next, the author is getting to grips with deep intellectual debate.
It is not that this is a tricky academic tome or too choc-full of dense language, but that there really are very many references, and its scope is grandiose, covering as it does, all of civilisation. As I move from a chapter on psychedelic drugs to a chapter on rock music through the ages – from The Contemplation Zone to The Tantric Love Temple at an imaginary festival (which is his device and thence his structure) – I become increasingly persuaded that Evans is an authority. By the Mosh Pit – Chapter 8 about war being an ecstatic experience – I am convinced also that this is a vital book and ecstasy is something we should indeed all be concerned with. He gets closer than most in identifying why we have not yet attained the Nirvana we are searching for and makes a good stab at how we might go about getting it.
It is a work of far-reaching research, both literary and personal. He attends a Vipassana meditation, an Alpha Christian course where the ensuing community support means a lot to him, as well as often referring to his teenage NDE (‘near death experience’). He has the ability to sum up huge bodies of work (eg. discussions of CBT) and cultural movements (eg. Romanticism) in pithy understandable phrases, and though he does increasingly state his own view (“We need to worship less, consume less, and play more”), and repeats that finding peace is hard work and can only be learned gradually, the book trips along and is very entertaining.