Category Archives: Books

The Hans Blumenberg Society Is Open for Membership

Family and friends of Hans Blumenberg have established a Blumenberg Society, and you can join. It costs money, and on this side of the Atlantic, you would have to go through a few hoops to pay the dues, because the organizers will not accept personal checks or credit cards. The membership form explains the details of using the host bank’s information to forward your payment.

photo of book coverAs mentioned in an earlier post, a new English translation of Blumenberg, Rigorism of Truth, is just out from Cornell University Press, and Blumenberg’s book on lions comes out soon in English too, though the publication date has been moved forward for the past half a year. In the past week, it has now jumped from a March 2018 publication date to April.

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“What People Gladly Accept Cannot Be the Truth”

Hans Blumenberg’s latest in English is now available from Cornell University Press. It’s Rigorism of Truth: ‘Moses the Egyptian’ and Other Writings on Freud and Arendt. The excellent work of translator Joe Paul Kroll deserves mention.

The quotation that heads this post is from one of a few short pieces called “thematically related texts” included in this collection. In light of “alternative facts,” “fake news,” “truthiness,” and a few other linguistic markers for our time, Blumenberg’s statements about truth can find a new, fertile context in which to make an impact.

Rigorism

Sprezzatura

After transferring to Magdalen College, Oxford, in the autumn of 1874, Wilde scored highest marks on his entrance exams, and finished by taking a prestigious double first in “Greats,” the relatively recent, classics-based curriculum officially known as literae humaniores. Always attentive to his image, he liked to imply that these successes came easily — “he liked to pose as a dilettante trifling with his books,” Hunter Blair recalled — but in fact put in “hours of assiduous and laborious reading, often into the small hours of the morning.” Whatever his taste for lilies and Sèvres, he was a grind.
— Daniel Mendelsohn, “Oscar Wilde, Classics Scholar” in Waiting for the Barbarians

The Power of Non-Smoking Guns

Sarah Palin holding Big GulpIn discussing the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan and Slavoj Žižek with others, it is often difficult to convey what each of these figures means by the real, since the real does not exist. The real is not to be confused with what most of us would call reality — see how the confusion begins? Sometimes it helps to come at the topic from a different angle. Today’s angle: fast food. We can imagine that many people, if asked, would confess that fast food puts us on the fast track to illness and other problems, problems food and beverage manufacturers build into their products. The manufacturers used to go to great lengths to keep that fact hidden.

Like the executives of tobacco companies, some of the food and beverage manufacturers have realized that non-hidden-ness can function as successfully as hiding the facts/toxins. Literary people have known this since Poe’s “The Purloined Letter.” People tend not to see what is right in front of them. It’s frequently the best place to hide things. Jeffrey Dunn, former Coca-Cola executive sums it up: “It’s not like there’s a smoking gun. The gun is right there. It’s not hidden.” Some fast foodies take their knowledge of self-destructiveness as a badge of honor by proclaiming things like, “At least I know what’s killing me,” demonstrating that empowering knowledge = a deeper level of denial, or non-seeing. “I see that I do not see, so stop trying to make me see.” This is the starting place of almost all education. What happens after that is a version of the story of Anne Sullivan.

“People seldom see the halting and painful steps by which the most insignificant success is achieved.”
— Anne Sullivan

Shakespeare’s Social Network

A new book by Bart van Es will be available in North America next month, but we can learn some things already, thanks to a review in the Times Higher Education Supplement.

Shakespeare in Company is a meticulous account of the institutional and economic forces that shaped the plays themselves and an acute analysis of the ways in which this shaping occurred. For instance, in 1594 Shakespeare became a sharer in the Chamberlain’s Men and, as such, an “attached” playwright. Unlike Kyd, Chapman, Jonson, Ford, Webster or Beaumont, Shakespeare wrote for a single company, an arrangement, claims van Es, that he “initiated”. This facilitated the composition of roles with particular actors in mind and “a new concern with the process of casting individual performers [which in turn] enabled the creation of psychological depth”.

Celebrating a Contrarian

Sometimes it helps to have someone say “no.” The naysayer often deserves gratitude. Think of it as appreciating the black smoke during the pope’s election.*  Didn’t some of us feel a little bit better when the vote did not produce a new pope?  Evgeny Morozov is our non-pope. I imagine that when all the well-to-do tech gurus were rushing toward Second Life, now a piece of internet detritus, Evgeny was there yelling, “No!”  And, “In what craziness are you people engaged?” However, no one listened. Shall some of us try listening to him by reading his new book?

What makes today different is that the overall excitement about “the Internet”—I find this concept so sickening and suffocating that I use it in scare quotes throughout the book—makes us blind to the pitfalls of solutionism and justifies many silly interventions and reform agendas. Why not do all these things—eliminate hypocrisy or crime—if “the Internet,” this revolutionary technology, allows us to? — Evgeny Morozov

*Yes, of course the black smoke is a metaphor for the black soul of the church, in the same way the dark smoke signals the appearance of the Wicked Witch of the West in the film version of The Wizard of Oz. Is it an accident in light of Evgeny’s new book that WWW should be her initials?

Photo of Wicked Witch of the West

Elizabethan Espionage

Keith Thomas reviews a new book that shows that political esotericism was afoot  long before the CIA and NSA.  Here’s a portion to entice further exploration:

Alford vividly evokes this murky world of codes, ciphers, invisible ink, intercepted letters, aliases, disguises, forgeries and instructions to burn after reading. The Catholic plotter Gilbert Gifford was “the most notable double treble villain that ever lived”, thought one contemporary; 400 years before John Le Carré, Walsingham had him publicly denounced as a traitor in order to provide cover for his activities as a double agent. The most spectacular sting involved obtaining the evidence necessary to convict Mary Queen of Scots by persuading her to employ a supposedly secret method of corresponding with the French ambassador; Walsingham’s spies obligingly carried her letters for her, in cylinders concealed in beer barrels, making copies en route, and even adding a forged postscript to one of them, inviting the recipient to divulge the names of his fellow-conspirators.