Books in brief: The Art of Losing Control by Jules Evans

"A captivating exploration of humanity’s journey toward self-transcendence"
April 13, 2017
The Art of Losing Control: The Philosophy of Ecstatic Experience, by Jules Evans (Canongate, £12.99) “There is something to be said for those moments when we lose control, when we surrender to something greater than us, even if it means going beyond critical rationality.” In The Art of Losing Control, Jules Evans, research fellow at Queen Mary, University of London, looks at the ways we attempt to transcend our conscious minds and achieve “ecstasy.” His examples include charismatic Christianity, psychedelic drugs, orgasms, sport, and various kinds of artistic experience, to name just a few. Evans suggests that western culture’s difficult relationship with “ego-loss” has come about since Enlightenment reason caused us to lose our attachment to the enchanted, more spiritual worldview, and accept a perspective in which the universe consists solely of matter and everything can be accounted for in material terms.

The book is playfully set at a metaphorical festival in which each chapter, describing a different method of losing control, takes place in a different “tent.” It’s a concept that isn’t fully fleshed out and is somewhat superfluous.

Nonetheless, Evans invites an open-minded approach to reading his work and ultimately draws a dichotomy between Socratic rationalism and Dionysiac ecstasy, suggesting a bit of both is needed for a healthy life. He also mentions the possibility of a “religion of the future,” perhaps a cult of nature or of technology. It would have been nice to see this unpacked more.

Filled with intriguing and amusing anecdotes of Evans’s “research” experiences—including undertaking the Alpha course—and his experiments with LSD, this book is a captivating exploration of humanity’s journey toward self-transcendence—but not a manual for how to do it.