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The Revelation of Imagination: From Homer and the Bible through Virgil and Augustine to Dante. By William Franke. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2015. Paperback: ISBN 978-0-8101-3182-8. Pp. xv + 406. $39.95. Cloth: ISBN978-0-8101-3119-4. $99.95. Ever-increasing pressure on colleges and universities to demonstrate the marketability of their graduates in the business world is a source of anxiety for many of us in the humanities. We all know the importance of what we teach, even that the skills and knowledge we inculcate in our students are marketable, but we do not always find it easy to communicate the immediate value of the humanities to our culture. William Franke’s project in The Revelation of Imagination: From Homer and the Bible through Virgil and Augustine to Dante is to ‘‘focus on what is enduring and perennial rather than accommodated to the agenda of the moment,’’ but in so doing he also provides a powerful defense of the contemporary relevance of the ‘‘revelations’’ great literature can provide (xi). Rereading five classic texts that he describes as aspiring ‘‘to become the conscience and the consciousness of a whole civilization,’’ Franke demonstrates their power to articulate new truth for the immediate present of succeeding cultures. Franke is an eminent scholar whose perhaps-best known works, including his 2007 anthology On What Cannot Be Said and his 2014 A Philosophy of the Unsayable, explore apophatic discourse. The Revelation of Imagination is every bit the strong scholarly work, replete with footnotes and references, one would expect. The extreme clarity and accessibility of the text, however, open it to a much wider audience than the scholarly academic community. Anyone interested in learning about the great texts Franke treats in the book will find it a wonderful reading guide. Each chapter could be read alone as an aid to understanding a specific text, but taken as a whole they offer a finely woven argument regarding the revelatory nature of great literature. While Franke’s approach is post-secular in that it is open to and encourages finding transcendent meaning in literature, this work is literary rather than religious and would be useful even to those who do not adhere to a faith tradition. Franke begins with an introduction addressing the type of knowledge represented by the humanities, pointing out that, of course, all knowledge is human knowledge, as a human is required do the knowing regardless of the field. However, he makes the important distinction that the humanities are particularly ‘‘contextual and relational, and therefore also historical and even personal’’ (4). Franke then gives a brief history of the liberal arts and education, noting that jockeying for superiority among the liberal arts, which included the trivium of verbal arts alongside the quadrivium of quantitative arts, was ‘‘rife from the ancient times, all through the Middle Ages, and on into the Renaissance’’; therefore, today’s controversies over what is most valuable in higher education are neither new nor, perhaps, resolvable. What truly makes the humanities unique, Franke asserts, is the emphasis they place on knowledge as universal, as wisdom ‘‘not to be supplanted by any technique or system’’ (28). Book Reviews 713 In chapter 1, Franke offers a close reading of portions of the Bible, beginning with a defense of the Bible as a humanities text. He argues that reading the Bible in this way unveils its relevance to ontological, philosophical, and theological questions common to humankind throughout history and cultures. Franke notes that the recent post-secular turn in contemporary culture frees us to treat the Bible as a humanities text, or rather as a set of humanities texts encompassing multiple genres including myth, historical epic, poetry, and statements of faith, all of which reveal present truth in each historical context in which they are read. This chapter is pivotal for the remainder of the book, as it provides generic grounding for what Franke argues constitutes ‘‘revelation’’ provided by imaginative literature. Understanding the first nine chapters of Genesis as myth, ‘‘absolutely without prejudice as to the actual or possible truth of its contents,’’ invites the reader to find revelatory meaning regarding the nature of his or her...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2056-5666
Print ISSN
0148-3331
Pages
pp. 713-716
Launched on MUSE
2020-01-28
Open Access
No
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