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Minor quibbles aside, fans of Arendt, Howe and Kazin will find Kishik’s invention, and his playful seriousness in...

A beguiling work of literary and social criticism that begins with a subverting counterfactual and moves into a deeply searching inquiry into the nature of an iconic island.

What if Walter Benjamin, literary critic and postmodern hero, hadn’t committed suicide on the French border in 1940 but instead wound up living “on the top floor in the last building on a dead-end street” in Manhattan? That’s the premise of Kishik’s (Philosophy/Emerson Coll.; The Power of Life: Agamben and the Coming Politic, 2012) engaging conceit: Not only would Benjamin have lived, if perhaps not happily, but he would also have extended his Arcades Project, covering 19th-century Paris to New York, the capital of the 20th. It is that nonexistent book that Kishik is studying here. If the concept is a little head-spinning, then so are Benjamin’s theories of the city, state, economy and so forth that Kishik educes from the—well, the evidence and nonevidence alike. So, “Benjamin argues that the Hegelian belief in a sovereign state that can lead us toward some form of universal reason is either wishful thinking or a cruel joke.” Alas, Benjamin did not live to elaborate the idea, which Kishik then extends to a contrastive study, in brief, of the differences between a philosophy (and philosopher) of the state and one of the city, places and political constructs that the Greeks did not differentiate. “What distinguishes Athens from New York and antiquity from modernity,” writes Kishik, “has something to do with the fact that today we use two words—city and state—to designate two very different entities.” Kishik’s criticism of a fictitious book never descends into coyness, though it occasionally gets a little tangled in ponderousness and faux profundity—e.g., “The Statue of Liberty might be seen as sacred only because it has no contact with the profane street.”

Minor quibbles aside, fans of Arendt, Howe and Kazin will find Kishik’s invention, and his playful seriousness in maintaining it, both a pleasure and a provocation.

Pub Date: April 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8047-8603-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Stanford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2015

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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