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In this unusual and fascinating study of literature as ""cultural myth,"" Professor Zweig looks at the decline and domestication of the adventurer from his once pre-eminent position in classical literature. From Odysseus to Beowulf, from Cuchulainn to the Upanishads, in the myths of American Indians and the shamanistic tales of Siberia, the adventurer's confrontations with gods and monsters, his physical courage and untamed energies defined ""the sources of meaning."" Indeed Zweig goes on to propose that storytelling -- ""the narrative art itself"" -- arose from the need to record adventures. In modern literature, on the contrary, ""action"" has been devalued. Death-defying exploits are the stuff or popular mysteries, romances and pulp magazines; Dillinger, Capone, Jesse James and James Bond represent escape, daydreaming, irresponsibility not ""serious"" art. In contemporary fiction man is no longer what he does, but is in the words of Malraux ""neither more nor less than the miserable heap of his secrets."" In fact, says Zweig, since the 18th century ""the principal innovations of the novel. . .can be described as new and better ways of telling secrets."" Zweig explores this transition from the outer to the inner landscape from the ancient epics to Casanova who exemplifies the 18th century adventurer become ""frivolous,"" to Poe, T.E. Lawrence, Nietzsche, Malraux, Sartre and Mailer who are seen as touchstones on the intellectual journey toward the ""vanishing authenticity"" of action to the point where it becomes background for the ""elaborate frescoes of style"" through which we realize our interior psychic voyages.

Pub Date: Aug. 9th, 1974
Publisher: Basic Books