The surprising claim of this book is that dwelling on loss is not necessarily depressing. Instead, Jonathan Flatley argues, embracing melancholy can be a road back to contact with others and can lead people to productively remap their relationship to the world around them. Flatley demonstrates that a seemingly disparate set of modernist writers and thinkers showed how aesthetic activity can give us the means to comprehend and change our relation to loss.The texts at the center of Flatley’s analysis—Henry James’s Turn of the Screw, W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk, and Andrei Platonov’s Chevengur—share with Freud an interest in understanding the depressing effects of difficult losses and with Walter Benjamin the hope that loss itself could become a means of connection and the basis for social transformation. For Du Bois, Platonov, and James, the focus on melancholy illuminates both the historical origins of subjective emotional life and a heretofore unarticulated community of melancholics. The affective maps they produce make possible the conversion of a depressive melancholia into a way to be interested in the world.
The Art of Being is a powerful account of how the literary form of the novel reorients philosophy toward the meaning of existence. Yi-Ping Ong shows that for Kierkegaard, Sartre, and Beauvoir, the form of the novel in its classic phase yields the conditions for reconceptualizing the nature of self-knowledge, freedom, and the world. Their discovery gives rise to a radically new poetics of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century realist novel.For the existentialists, a paradox lies at the heart of the novel. As a work of art, the novel exists as a given totality. At the same time, the capacity of the novel to compel belief in the free and independent existence of its characters depends on the absence of any perspective from which their lives may be viewed as a consummated whole. At stake in the poetics of the novel are the conditions under which knowledge of existence is possible. Ong’s reframing of foundational debates in novel theory takes us beyond old dichotomies of mind and world, interiority and totality, and form and mimesis. It illuminates existential dimensions of novelistic realism overlooked by empirical and sociological approaches.Bringing together philosophy, novel theory, and intellectual history with groundbreaking readings of Tolstoy, Eliot, Austen, James, Flaubert, and Zola, The Art of Being reveals how the novel engages in its very form with philosophically rich notions of self-knowledge, freedom, authority, world, and the unfinished character of human life.
Augustine of Hippo, a central figure in the history of Western thought, is also the author of a theory of reading that has had a profound influence on Western letters from the ages of Petrarch, Montaigne, Luther, and Rousseau to those of Freud and our own time. Brian Stock provides the first full account of this theory within the evolution of Augustine’s early dialogues, his Confessions, and his systematic treatises.Augustine was convinced that words and images play a mediating role in our perceptions of reality. In the union of philosophy, psychology, and literary insights that forms the basis of his theory of reading, the reader emerges as the dominant model of the reflective self. Meditative reading, indeed the meditative act that constitutes reading itself, becomes the portal to inner being. At the same time, Augustine argues that the self-knowledge reading brings is, of necessity, limited, since it is faith rather than interpretive reason that can translate reading into forms of understanding.In making his theory of reading a central concern, Augustine rethinks ancient doctrines about images, memory, emotion, and cognition. In judging what readers gain and do not gain from the sensory and mental understanding of texts, he takes up questions that have reappeared in contemporary thinking. He prefigures, and in a way he teaches us to recognize, our own preoccupations with the phenomenology of reading, the hermeneutics of tradition, and the ethics of interpretation.
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