Contrary to what Simone de Beauvoir famously argued in 1949, men have not lived without knowing the burdens of their sex. Though men may have been elevated to cultural positions of strength and privilege, it has not been without intense scrutiny of their biological functions. Investigations of male potency and the `ability to perform’ have long been mainstays of social, political, and artistic discourse and have often provoked spirited and partisan declarations on what it means to be a man. This interdisciplinary collection considers the tensions that have developed between the historical privilege often ascribed to the male and the vulnerabilities to which his body is prone. Andrew Mangham and Daniel Lea’s introduction illustrates how with the dawn of modern medicine during the Renaissance there emerged a complex set of languages for describing the male body not only as a symbol of strength, but as flesh and bone prone to illness, injury and dysfunction. Using a variety of historical and literary approaches, the essays consider the critical ways in which medicine’s interactions with literature reveal vital clues about the ways sex, gender, and identity are constructed through treatments of a range of `pathologies’ including deformity, venereal disease, injury, nervousness, and sexual difference. The relationships between male medicine and ideals of potency and masculinity are searchingly explored through a broad range of sources including African American slave fictions, southern gothic, early modern poetry, Victorian literature, and the Modern novel.
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From a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic comes an impassioned critique of the West’s retreat from reason.
‘The Death of Truth is destined to become the defining treatise of our age’ David Grann.
We live in a time when the very idea of objective truth is mocked and discounted by the US President. Discredited conspiracy theories and ideologies have resurfaced, proven science is once more up for debate and Russian propaganda floods our screens. The wisdom of the crowd has usurped research and expertise and we are each left clinging to the beliefs that best confirm our biases.
How did truth become an endangered species? This decline began decades ago and in the Death of Truth, former New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani takes a penetrating look at the cultural forces that contributed to this gathering storm. In social media and literature, television, academia and political campaigns, Kakutani identifies the trends –originating on both the right and the left – that have combined to elevate subjectivity over factuality, science and common values. And she us to the words of the great critics of authoritarianism, writers like George Orwell and Hannah Arendt, whose work is newly and eerily relevant.
With remarkable erudition and insight, Kakutani offers a provocative diagnosis of our current condition and presents a path forward for our truth-challenged times.
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Timothy Morton argues that ecological awareness in the present Anthropocene era takes the form of a strange loop or M bius strip, twisted to have only one side. Deckard travels this oedipal path in Blade Runner (1982) when he learns that he might be the enemy he has been ordered to pursue. Ecological awareness takes this shape because ecological phenomena have a loop form that is also fundamental to the structure of how things are. The logistics of agricultural society resulted in global warming and hardwired dangerous ideas about life-forms into the human mind. Dark ecology puts us in an uncanny position of radical self-knowledge, illuminating our place in the biosphere and our belonging to a species in a sense that is far less obvious than we like to think. Morton explores the logical foundations of the ecological crisis, which is suffused with the melancholy and negativity of coexistence yet evolving, as we explore its loop form, into something playful, anarchic, and comedic. His work is a skilled fusion of humanities and scientific scholarship, incorporating the theories and findings of philosophy, anthropology, literature, ecology, biology, and physics. Morton hopes to reestablish our ties to nonhuman beings and to help us rediscover the playfulness and joy that can brighten the dark, strange loop we traverse.
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Hearing Things is a meditation on sound’s work in literature. Drawing on critical works and the commentaries of many poets and novelists who have paid close attention to the role of the ear in writing and reading, Angela Leighton offers a reconsideration of literature itself as an exercise in hearing. An established critic and poet, Leighton explains how we listen to the printed word, while showing how writers use the expressivity of sound on the silent page. Although her focus is largely on poets–Alfred Tennyson, W. B. Yeats, Robert Frost, Walter de la Mare, Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, Jorie Graham, and Alice Oswald–Leighton’s scope includes novels, letters, and philosophical writings as well. Her argument is grounded in the specificity of the text under discussion, but one important message emerges from the whole: literature by its very nature commands listening, and listening is a form of understanding that has often been overlooked. Hearing Things offers a renewed call for the kind of criticism that, avoiding the programmatic or purely ideological, remains alert to the work of sound in every literary text.
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Kafka’s novel The Trial, written from 1914 to 1915 and published in 1925, is a multi-faceted, notoriously difficult manifestation of European literary modernism, and one of the most emblematic books of the 20th Century. It tells the story of Josef K., a man accused of a crime he has no recollection of committing and whose nature is never revealed to him. The novel is often interpreted theologically as an expression of radical nihilism and a world abandoned by God. It is also read as a parable of the cold, inhumane rationality of modern bureaucratization. Like many other novels of this turbulent period, it offers a tragic quest-narrative in which the hero searches for truth and clarity (whether about himself, or the anonymous system he is facing), only to fall into greater and greater confusion.
This collection of nine new essays and an editor’s introduction brings together Kafka experts, intellectual historians, literary scholars, and philosophers in order to explore the novel’s philosophical and theological significance. Authors pursue the novel’s central concerns of justice, law, resistance, ethics, alienation, and subjectivity. Few novels display human uncertainty and skepticism in the face of rapid modernization, or the metaphysical as it intersects with the most mundane aspects of everyday life, more insistently than The Trial.
Ultimately, the essays in this collection focus on how Kafka’s text is in fact philosophical in the ways in which it achieves its literary aims. Rather than considering ideas as externally related to the text, the text is considered philosophical at the very level of literary form and technique.
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As an aging, tenacious Elizabeth I clung to power, a talented playwright probed the social causes, the psychological roots, and the twisted consequences of tyranny. In exploring the psyche (and psychoses) of the likes of Richard III, Macbeth, Lear, Coriolanus, and the societies they rule over, Stephen Greenblatt illuminates the ways in which William Shakespeare delved into the lust for absolute power and the catastrophic consequences of its execution.
Cherished institutions seem fragile, political classes are in disarray, economic misery fuels populist anger, people knowingly accept being lied to, partisan rancor dominates, spectacular indecency rules—these aspects of a society in crisis fascinated Shakespeare and shaped some of his most memorable plays. With uncanny insight, he shone a spotlight on the infantile psychology and unquenchable narcissistic appetites of demagogues—and the cynicism and opportunism of the various enablers and hangers-on who surround them—and imagined how they might be stopped. As Greenblatt shows, Shakespeare’s work, in this as in so many other ways, remains vitally relevant today.
Reading classic and popular literature alongside the latest research in cognitive science, Vera Tobin shows that a good surprise works by taking advantage of cognitive biases, mental shortcuts, and quirks of memory. She provides not only a sophisticated how-to guide for writers but for all readers a new appreciation of the pleasures of being had.
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