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Perceptive meditations on humanity’s need for spiritual nourishment.

A collection of essays on why contemporary culture would do well to embrace transcendence.

Hungarian cultural critic Földényi (Theory of Art/Univ. of Theatre, Film, and Television, Budapest; The Glance of the Medusa: The Physiognomy of Mysticism, 2018, etc.) gathers 13 pieces, published in earlier versions from 1995 to 2012, that examine the spiritual and metaphysical consequences of the Enlightenment. The author regrets the loss of mystery in contemporary life, “the feeling that there is something incomparably greater than my own self.” That sense of the ineffable, he asserts, was suppressed during the Enlightenment, which promoted the idea that “only time and intellectual preparation were required in order to cast light upon all things—with no dark corners remaining anywhere unilluminated by the light of reason.” In essays that consider a wide range of writers and artists, including Dostoyevsky, Rilke, Goethe, Artaud, William Blake, Mary Shelley, Goya, and many more, Földényi underscores the importance of the metaphysical and warns against seeing “the renunciation of transcendence as a victory.” We are surrounded by the enigma of our own existence: “Each human life,” the author writes, “emerges thanks to a fracture, a break” that plunges us from nonexistence into existence and throws us back again. In the title essay, the author imagines Dostoyevsky, exiled in Siberia, coming upon Hegel’s rationalistic philosophy of world history, which eliminated Siberia “as a setting for historical culture.” Exiled from the rest of Russia and now, by Hegel, from the progress of world history, Dostoyevsky responded at first with dismay. But gradually, he came to find new understanding—of himself, religion, and the Russian soul—far from “Hegelian repression.” Among Földényi’s essays on art, his consideration of Caspar David Friedrich’s painting Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog stands out for its precise, lyrical prose and insights about art and science. Friedrich’s painting, the author argues, reflects the contradictory longing of German romantics to become eternally submerged in nature—or to turn around and “write rapturous interpretations of the absolute spirit embodied by that sea of fog.”

Perceptive meditations on humanity’s need for spiritual nourishment.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-16749-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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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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