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126Philosophy and Literature This deficiency is symptomatic of a greater difficulty. Spurlin on several occasions grants that he cannot prove that the writings of the philosophes exerted a discernible influence upon the Founding Fathers, although he does show that these materials were at least familiar to them. However, having defined his task in terms of the demonstration of such influence, he proves unwilling to engage in the kind of hermeneutic analysis which might make less meager the results of an inquiry which largely fails to achieve its own goal. Hence, just as John Adams once confessed that he knew "not what to make of a republic of thirty million atheists," we too are left unsure of the precise part played by that republic's literature and philosophy in the creation of America. Whitman CollegeTimothy V. Kaufman-Osborn In the Age ofProse: Literary and Philosophical Essays, by Erich Heller; xii & 268 pp. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984, $39.50. Speaking of a translation of Thomas Mann's Letters, Professor Heller remarks that "to say of a book that it is readable seems not much better than to say of a meal that it is edible" (p. 108). Heller's own collection of essays makes a very satisfactory meal indeed. His writing is discursive in the very best sense, covering hundreds, sometimes thousands of years in the space of a sentence or two to reveal fascinating undercurrents of human thought which break the surface at the most unlikely places. Of the fourteen essays in the collection, four are conceived as introductions to individual writers (Karl Kraus, Knut Hamsun, Theodor Fontane, Wilhelm Busch), although again Heller's urbanity and occasional detours bring spice to what from many other critics might have been rather plain fare; his comments, in passing, on Kraus's "Epigonentum" for instance (p. 97), or on Fontane's realism of the inconsequential (p. 247), or, in connection with Hamsun, on the writer's "disinterested subjectivity" (p. 167) — it is precisely such a quality which enables Heller himself to appreciate writers such as Hamsun, Heidegger, or Busch whose political naivete or prejudice has contributed to their neglect. The ancient question of a writer's political responsibilities is considered also in one of three essays devoted to Thomas Mann, whose changing attitude to "political literature" is traced in his letters, his "Meditations of an Unpolitical Man," and his novel Doctor Faustus. A second essay on Mann ranges over Goethe's Faust (in particular the conflict between Faust's apparent harmony with nature and the dramatic requirements ofthe wager), Beethoven's "Ode toJoy," which similarly proclaims the ecstatic certainty of harmony, and Mann's Nietzschean hero Adrian Leverkühn, who substitutes for the "divine spark" of the Ninth Symphony the "inflammation of hell." In a third essay Heller questions Mann's at- Reviews127 titude to his diaries and concludes that recording the trivia of real life gave the writer a sense of himself as a "real person." Three essays deal with Freud, and will be welcomed by those scholars alarmed at the status of the new priesthood in art and literature. Citing well-known examples from Mann to show the relevance of psychology in characterization, Heller then pinpoints the psychoanalyst's dilemma ("the vast superiority of presumed diagnostic insights over therapeutic possibilities" as he delightfully puts it, p. 183) and the dangers to art of the over-intimate connection with psychology. The perils of inept and inappropriate psychoanalytical studies are then brilliandy exposed in "The dismantling of a marionette theatre," which annihilates a particularly unfortunate, but, Heller stresses, all too typical example, an attempt to discover in Kleist's essay "On die puppet theatre" evidence of the author's sexual dysfunction. "Man ashamed" is a less direct answer to Freud's disciples: a wide-ranging survey ofthe concept of shame in literature leads to the conclusion that to remove shame, sexual or otherwise, from man's makeup would be to diminish or even negate his humanness. "The poet in the age of prose" (the essay from which the title and the common thread of die collection are derived), is less generalized than one might expect; the Angel of Rilke's Duino Elegies is interpreted...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 126-127
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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