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Voegelinian Readings of Modern Literature

Edited by Charles R. Embry

Publication Year: 2011


The work of renowned thinker Eric Voegelin is largely rooted in his literary sensibility. Voegelin’s contributions to the field of philosophy grew from the depths of his knowledge of history’s most important texts, from ancient to modern times. Many of the concepts he emphasized, such as participatory experience and symbolization in philosophy, have long been significant to literary criticism as well as philosophical study. Voegelin himself even ventured into the field of criticism, publishing a critical examination of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw in 1971. Since it is so strongly influenced by the written record of man’s search for meaning, Voegelinian thought makes an ideal framework for the study of twentieth-century literature.
            For Voegelinian Readings of Modern Literature, scholar Charles R. Embry has collected essays that consider particular pieces of literature in light of the philosopher’s work. These essays supply a theoretical grounding for the reading of novels, poems, and plays and reveal how the Voegelinian perspective exposes the existential and philosophical dimensions of the literary works themselves. As a unit, this collection of essays shows how modern pieces of literature can symbolize their creators’ participation in the human search for the truth of existence—just as myths, philosophical works, and religious texts always have.
            Voegelin’s primary concern as a philosopher was to expose the roots of the disturbances of the modern era—religious conflict, imperialism, war—so that the sources of order leading to meaning are revealed.  The openness of Voegelinian thought and the many ways he considered the levels of reality generate intriguing themes for literary criticism. In these essays, noted Voegelin scholars focus on American and European literary artists from the 1700s through the late twentieth century, including Emily Dickinson, Henrik Ibsen, Thomas Carlyle, D. H. Lawrence, Marcel Proust, and Hermann Broch.
            While the intersection of the work of Eric Voegelin and literature has been a part of Voegelin scholarship for decades, this book explores that relationship in an extended form. Through a broad collection of thoughtful essays, Voegelinian Readings of Modern Literature reveals how much Voegelin did to break down the barriers between literature and philosophy and makes an engaging contribution to Voegelin scholarship.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Series Information, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-9


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xiv

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pp. 1-6

If we look to the historically first and fully developed philosophical corpus, the work of Plato, we note that instead of writing didactic treatises on various philosophical topoi, he composed dialogues as dramatic reenactments of conversations in various social situations—a remembered...

Part I: Pneumopathology and Individual Consciousness

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“The Iceberg Rises and Sinks Again” : Elizabeth Bishop’s Pneumopathologic Imagination

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pp. 9-29

In “The Imaginary Iceberg,” from her first book, North & South (1946), Elizabeth Bishop argues, “We’d rather have the iceberg than the ship, although it meant the end of travel.” English American poet Anne Robinson calls “The Imaginary Iceberg” and the poem that precedes it, “The Map,”...

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Human Beings in the Metaxy: Dilemmas and Extremes in Henrik Ibsen

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pp. 30-44

The works of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906) incorporated several important motifs that lend themselves to analysis in light of themes central to Eric Voegelin’s political thought.1 We believe this analysis is well conceived for two reasons:...

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“Ce n’est pas ma faute” : The Strange Fortunes of Piety and Consciousness in Choderlos de Laclos’s Les liaisons dangereuses

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pp. 45-64

Choderlos Laclos’s Les liaisons dangereuses (1782) is an epistolary novel of wicked reason and deformed consciousness, the latter a philosophical problem that appears throughout the work of Eric Voegelin. In volume 5 of Order and History, Voegelin addressed the problem of philosophy deprived of “the erotic tension of the Divine beyond” as a specific property...

Part II: The Loss of Public Order

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Styles of Truth in Dazai Osamu’s Setting Sun

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pp. 67-93

According to Eric Voegelin, as expressed in a letter to Robert Heilman in August 1959, the “essence of politics” is a philia politike, a “friendship which institutes a cooperative community among men,” a friendship that is possible insofar as people “participate in the common nous, in the spirit...

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Recovering Stefan George’s Poetry of the Spirit from the Reductio ad Hitler

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pp. 94-117

While literature and philosophy have sometimes been used for propaganda purposes and authors in many countries have come under pressure to write propaganda under the guise of “literature,” especially during a war,1 it is also true that occasionally the entire course of a nation’s literature...

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A Gnostic Moment in Anglo-American Culture: Parousiasm of the Voice in Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus

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pp. 118-151

In his classic novel Sartor Resartus, Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) entertains a social ontology in which symbols play a crucial role in the creation of societal order. Throughout the novel, Carlyle employs two narrative voices, and the dialectical interplay between these voices enables the author...

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D. H. Lawrence: The Prophet’s Cul de Sac

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pp. 152-180

Through the entire course of his writing career, D. H. Lawrence (1885– 1930) was highly critical of the culture and politics of his native England and of the modern West generally. He regularly railed against materialism, mechanism, deathly abstraction, a lack of vitality and spontaneity, and other related troubles. Early in his career he hoped to use his pen...

Part III: Existence in the Tension of the Metaxy

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The Tension of the Metaxy in Emily Dickinson’s Poetry

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pp. 183-208

Of American poets taught regularly in secondary education, the two most ill served, it seems to me, are Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson.1 Students are typically introduced to these poets through their most-anthologized poems, and the majority of these are chosen in part for their accessibility—not too daunting conceptually, and technically fluid—but...

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The Truth of the Novel: Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu

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pp. 209-237

I am not, nor do I pretend to be, a Proust scholar. I approach the great novel, as I approach all great novels, simply as a lover of literature and a philosopher, that is, as a lover of wisdom. I lay great stress upon the word “lover,” and I pretend neither to finality nor comprehensiveness in what...

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Between Poetry and Philosophy: The Challenge of Hermann Broch

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pp. 238-266

Hermann Broch (1886–1951) is one of the most important figures in twentieth-century literature, and yet he remains one of its most unknown famous writers, especially outside the German cultural space. Five novels of his, The Sleepwalkers, The Unknown Quantity, The Death of Virgil, The Spell, and The Guiltless, are available in English translation, supplemented by a...


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pp. 267-270


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pp. 271-275

E-ISBN-13: 9780826272454
E-ISBN-10: 0826272452
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826219152
Print-ISBN-10: 0826219152

Page Count: 289
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1