Ben Hutchinson, The Midlife Mind: Literature and the Art of Aging.
London: Reaktion Books, 2020
The meaning of life is a common concern, but what is the meaning of midlife? With the help of illustrious writers such as Dante, Montaigne, Beauvoir, Goethe and Beckett, The Midlife Mind sets out to answer this question. Erudite but engaging, it takes a personal approach to that most impersonal of processes, ageing. From the ancients to the moderns, from poets to playwrights, writers have long meditated on how we can remain creative as we move through our middle years. There are no better guides, then, to how we have regarded middle age in the past, how we understand it in the present, and how we might make it as rewarding as possible in the future.
Dominique Jullien, Borges, Buddhism and World Literature: A Morphology of Renunciation Tales.
New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.
This book follows the renunciation story in Borges and beyond, arguing for its centrality as a Borgesian compositional trope and as a Borgesian prism for reading a global constellation of texts. The renunciation story at the heart of Buddhism, that of a king who leaves his palace to become an ascetic, fascinated Borges because of its cross-cultural adaptability and metamorphic nature, and because it resonated so powerfully across philosophy, politics and aesthetics. From the story and its many variants, Borges’s essays formulated a ‘morphological’ conception of literature (borrowing the idea from Goethe), whereby a potentially infinite number of stories were generated by transformation of a finite number of ‘archetypes’. The king-and-ascetic encounter also tells a powerful political story, setting up a confrontation between power and authority; Borges’s own political predicament is explored against the rich background of truth-telling renouncers. In its poetic variant, the renunciation archetype morphs into stories about art and artists, with renunciation a key requirement of the creative process: the discussion weaves in and out of Borges to highlight modern writers’ debt to asceticism. Ultimately, the enigmatic appeal of the renunciation story aligns it with the open-endedness of modern parables.
Michelle Bolduc, Translation and the Rediscovery of Rhetoric. Studies and Texts 217; Toronto Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Rhetoric.
Toronto: PIMS, Pontificial Institute of Medieval Studies, 2020.
Translation and the Rediscovery of Rhetoric presents a diachronic case study of how translation is the means by which rhetoric, as the art of reasoning, becomes a part of a lineage of – and a resource for – an ethics of civic discourse. It shows how translation (as practice and as theory, via the medieval topos of translatio as the transfer of knowledge) serves as the vehicle for the transfer of rhetoric as an art of argumentation and persuasion from classical Greece and Rome to modern Paris and Brussels by way of medieval France and Italy.
This study explores a significant and quite specific transmission of rhetorical thought. Beginning with the Roman orator Cicero it proceeds to the medieval Italian notary, philosopher, and statesman Brunetto Latini, whose translations of Cicero’s De inventione would plant the seeds for the renewal of rhetoric as an art of persuasion and radically change the fate of rhetoric in the twentieth century in the work of the French literary critic Jean Paulhan and the Belgian philosophers Chaïm Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca.
In so doing, Translation and the Rediscovery of Rhetoric serves to underscore the importance of medieval culture to contemporary thought by studying not only how knowledge was transmitted from antiquity to modernity by means of translation, but also by revealing how the Middle Ages made an essential and traceable contribution to modern rhetorical studies.
Professor Andrew Ginger, Instead of Modernity: The Western Canon and the Incorporation of the Hispanic (c. 1850 – 75) – Interventions: Rethinking the Nineteenth Century.
Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020.
When all that was solid melted into air… For decades, intellectuals from Benjamin to Bourdieu, Berman to Foucault, have been in thrall to this vision of the mid-nineteenth century. It shaped and underpinned their most influential thoughts, its legacy insinuated into institutionalized theories of culture. In this new book, that vision implodes, as if in a cultural supernova, its exceptionalism and limitations exposed. The story of modernity fades before a spectacle of linkages, stretching from and into the depths of history, the breadths of place. And, in a parallel substitution, the vast territories of the former Spanish Empire’s thread through the narrative, rather than lurking on the peripheries, no longer just the fallen founders of modernity. Instead of modernity goes to the very heart of comparative cultural study: the question of what happens when intimate, dynamic connections are made over place and time, what it is to feel at home amid the lavish diversity of culture. This ambitious interdisciplinary book reconsiders foundational figures of the modern western canon, from Darwin to Cameron, Baudelaire to Whistler. It weaves together brain images from France, preserved insects from the Americas, glass in London, poetry from Argentina, paintings from Spain. Flaubert, Whitman, and Nietzsche find themselves with Hostos from Puerto Rico and Gorriti from Argentina. The flotsam and jetsam of history – optical toys from Madrid – sit with Melville and Marx. The book ranges over theoretical fields: trauma and sexuality studies, theories of visuality, the philosophy of sacrifice and intimacy, the thought of Wittgenstein. Instead of modernity is an adventure in the practice of comparative writing: resonances join suggestively over place and time, the textures of words, phrases and images combine to form moods. This book will be of interest to anyone concerned with the question of modernity and with the fate of cultural theory and comparison.
Ziad Elmarsafy, Esoteric Islam in Modern French Thought: Massignon, Corbin, Jambet
London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2021
Why would a devout Catholic, a committed Protestant, and a Maoist atheist devote their lives and work to the study of esoteric aspects of Islam? How are these aspects ‘good to think with’? What are the theoretical and intellectual problems to which they provide solutions? These are the questions at the heart of Esoteric Islam in Modern French Thought. The three French specialists of Islam described above form an intellectual and personal genealogy that structures the core of the text: Massignon taught Corbin, who taught Jambet in his turn. Each of them found in the esoteric a solution to otherwise insurmountable problems: desire for Massignon, certainty for Corbin, and resurrection/immortality for Jambet. Over the course of three long chapters focused on the life and work of each writer, the book maps the central place of esoteric Islam in the intellectual life of twentieth and twenty-first century France.
Professor Ziad Elmarsafy is Professor of Comparative Literature at King’s College London. His publications include Sufism in the Contemporary Arabic Novel (2012).
T. J. Reed, Genesis: The Making of Literary Works from Homer to Christa Wolf. Camden House/Boydell and Brewer. Rochester, New York: 2020.
The book reasserts a traditional genetic approach to critical understanding. An account of the creative “processes” of real authors is illustrated by thirteen case studies, from single poems to epic and dramatic works, from the genesis of new genres to the pattern of a whole career. The selection ranges from antiquity (Homer and the Bible), to Early Modern (Montaigne, Shakespeare) Goethe (three chapters, on “Faust”, the lyrical poetry, and two novels), and finally 19th and 20th century German (Büchner, Thoams Mann, Kafka, Brecht, Paul Celan and Christa Wolf). All texts are quoted in English translation, the crucial ones (poems especially) in the original as well.
Poetry of Jiangnan, 2020: Issue 3, ISSN 1001 6694.
Kindly contributed by BCLA member Brent Yan, Beijing Foreign Studies University