Some of these are likely to be remedied by the arrival of future volumes, since they are merely the consequence of carving up the world wherever the knife happens to fall. Other omissions, however, appear to be deliberate—for example, the somewhat comic failure of the series to cover athletics. Your odds of ever reading one on football or basketball or Nascar are not good, since only about twenty-five per cent of the introductions are commissioned in the United States, and a certain British bias persists in the choice of subjects.
When I spoke with the series editor, Nancy Toff, she had just completed an assignment—given to her by her U. But other gaps in the series are more entrenched, and more insidious. In fact, of the fifty-four individuals featured in the series all but a handful are white and none are women. The editors say that this is because the biographical introductions were grandfathered in from the Past Masters series, and that they rarely commission books on individual people anymore. But that is a choice, not a law, and, whatever the logic behind it, it leads the series to implicitly endorse the same position as millennia worth of other omnibus projects: that the experiences and the contributions of women and people of color barely belong even in the vast inventory of everything worth knowing.
Why is baseball important? For that matter, why is Russian Literature important?
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Why is the Silk Road important? Why—intellectually speaking, not as a practical matter—are Teeth important? Put differently, what do we gain or hope to gain by reading books about all this stuff? The larger any compilation of knowledge gets, the more it forces us to confront the question of what, exactly, so much knowledge is for.
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Is it meant to glorify God? Perhaps, yet it creeps equally close to blasphemy; omniscience, after all, is the purview of the divine. Is it to impress an emperor, or a boss, or a date? Does it make us happy and virtuous, as Diderot hoped? Not on the evidence of Diderot himself, who suffered poverty and a prison sentence, was deserted by countless friends, and cheated rampantly on his wife. Does it make us wise?
Not always. You can know everything there is to know about volcanoes and still die in one. The classic defense of knowledge, as a hundred thousand inspirational posters will tell you, is that it is power. But, as a hundred thousand cultural theorists will counter, the relationship between those two terms is complicated: power is, among other things, the power to determine what counts as knowledge. Since roughly the middle of the last century, that kind of clout, which used to rest with the church and the state, has devolved to a considerable degree onto the academy.
Accordingly, modern omnibus projects tend to reflect the ideas and ideals of the university and often, as with the Very Short Introductions, to be a direct product of them.
The point of collecting, organizing, and disseminating a shared body of information—what E. Mere protection often turned into active promotion, in the form of various initiatives intended to spread Western values. From that perspective, projects like the Very Short Introductions seem like a kind of epistemological imperialism: an effort to dictate to the entire world what among its wild array of contents is worthy of our study.
That criticism, while merited, has its limits. The academy is not like the Catholic Church or an autocratic state, which has precious little room for contested ideas. It is, instead, a relatively open and cosmopolitan intellectual arena, one far more likely to help us understand and embrace new ideas than to obliterate them.
This is an ancient notion.enerryougraded.ml
German Literature: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Ever since Aristotle, people have argued over whether accurate information produces appropriate action—that is, whether knowing the right thing reliably makes us do the right thing. Indeed, we live in an era of abundant evidence to the contrary.
In our own fact-indifferent moment, it can often seem that knowledge, like poetry per Auden, makes nothing happen. Implicitly, we all understand that knowledge is sturdier, more important, and more virtuous than beliefs or opinions or suspicions. Whatever else knowledge may be—and, as Nagel is at pains to point out, it is fiendishly difficult to define—it is not subservient or convenient; it has a good-faith relationship to reality.
What we think we know can change how we behave—not quickly, not consistently, but often enough to matter. But even a fact that fails to affect anything or anyone is no less factual, no less interesting, no less important. And the only thing that makes it knowledge is that it is true.
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That sentiment could be the motto of the Very Short Introductions. The economic basis of the new intellectual freedom was the theme of another great publishing success of , Debit and Credit Soll und Haben by Gustav Freytag —95 , which remained the bestselling German novel until the end of the century.
Wilhelm Busch: scenes from Hans Huckebein , the story of a malevolent raven. Scarcely have the words left her mouth when — snap! Because the hostility was fundamentally an irrational self-hatred the two main characters in Debit and Credit have the same background it tended from the start to take on grotesque or nightmarish qualities, though in the true nightmare still lay in the distant future. As independent writing became a sustainable commercial activity, the bureaucracy withdrew into the editing and philological study of the national literature. In The Old Faith and the New Der alte und der neue Glaube , he argued that the historical basis of Christianity had been destroyed by his own researches and that its philosophical claims were refuted by modern science, particularly astronomy and Darwinian biology.
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Wagner himself saw his work as the crowning synthesis of German literature, philosophy, and music, and he brought together in his personal career most of the contradictory elements that Bismarck had fused into a nation. While conductor at the Dresden opera-house in the s he wrote revolutionary journalism and in took an active part in the unsuccessful local uprising.
Exiled to Switzerland for the next 16 years by fear of the German police and of his creditors he gave up politics and even, for a while, composing, in favour of the written word. Drawing on his German predecessors from Winckelmann to Romanticism, who had seen the perfection of Greek art as expressing the perfection of Greek society, and modern art as the means of educating and transforming modern society, he elaborated a theory of opera as the successor to Greek tragedy and the true instrument of social revolution.
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He turned therefore to Tristan and Isolde completed , which shows individuals as transient, suffering manifestations of the endlessly yearning Will, and then to an opera about opera, or at least about words and music, The Mastersingers of Nuremberg written —7. Hans Sachs here appears as a Schopenhauerian philosopher-artist Wagner? He thus reconciles the nobility, represented by the initially arrogant stolz Walther, with the stubbornly bourgeois artisans of Nuremberg, into whose guild Walther has sought admittance.
The union of Walther with the burghers of Nuremberg precisely parallels the union Bismarck achieved in the course of the s between an autocratic and hierarchical state structure and the newly wealthy middle classes, weaned away from the parliamentarianism of That, however, was only the mirror-image of the role Strauss had equally weirdly assigned to the literary and musical culture of late 18th-century agricultural and absolutist Germany and Austria: to provide spiritual sustenance to an industrial, urban, late 19th-century mass society too modern for religion.
Sometimes he criticized the old — its enlightened rationalism, its humanitarianism, and especially its more overtly religious survivals — in the name of the new.
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Sometimes he criticized the new — its egalitarianism, socialism, feminism, anti-Semitism — from the standpoint of the old, and now dispossessed, elite. The detachment of thought from any real social object or context became the purpose of his writing and of his solitary, wandering way of life. Nietzsche was incapable of constructing a book-length, or even an essay-length, argument and his attempt at a magnum opus, his biblical pastiche, Thus Spake Zarathustra Also sprach Zarathustra, —5 suffers from the stylistic inauthenticity that he diagnosed in his contemporaries.
Eventually — memory gives in. And if you look long into an abyss, the abyss too will look into you. In the Empire on which Nietzsche had declared intellectual war won one of its greatest victories. Praised or damned or played off one against the other they have retained that status in all subsequent Germanies down to the present day. With his anthology, A German Treasury of Tales Deutscher Novellenschatz, , and the theoretical musings that accompanied it, he created a literary concept that had the necessary multivalency to appeal to both the commercial and the academic factions in the cultural life of the Second Empire.
Novella Novelle in German was a long-established term for a short story in prose, and there had already been some speculation for example, by Tieck about the characteristics of the genre. Southern, Catholic, within reach of the Alpine passes to the Mediterranean lands, and blessed both with a largely functionless monarchy happy to build temples to art and music and with a stock of cheap apartments, vacated by those who had gone to seek their fortune in the North, it was a magnet for writers, painters, anarchists, and secular prophets. Poetry has become the vehicle of a pure will to power, untrammelled by the opposition of independent personalities or a material world.
In rapidly expanding Berlin Germany at last had the context and opportunity for a metropolitan and realist literature, to compare with that of 19th-century Paris, London, or St Petersburg. There is nothing reluctant or unsophisticated about the modernity of Theodor Fontane — , a professional journalist and poet, who after periods of residence in England and France settled in Berlin and wrote 14 novels about the new Prussia in the last 20 years of his life.
During the s, Fontane advanced from historical themes to the life of his own time. But Fontane was more than a German Literature satirist, he was a moralist with a penetrating sense of political and historical realities. In he began a series of novels which achieve something almost without precedent in German literature: presenting lives which are as independent, responsible, and free of political oppression as it is possible for human lives to be, because they are lived by members of a ruling class.
Why he does this, he does not know, and neither do we. Is there in him a streak of cruelty? Or is he a victim of some fate greater than himself, as unavoidable as social existence yet as arbitrary as the seeming chance that we live in one time rather than another? Literature needed to concentrate not on the landed but on the monied classes, and on those out of whom they made their money, the new class of industrial workers. To that extent its aims were allied to those of Fontane, who reviewed some of its productions favourably.
In bowing to it they are not deluded, and their human worth depends on the spirit in which they perform the obligations imposed by their transient but inescapable time and place. Fontane knew intimately the class he made central to his three greatest novels, but he did not himself belong to it.
His realism therefore always hints at another perspective from that of his principals, at the historical certainty that one day the insubstantial pageant will all fade and another idol in another temple demand submission. A new age is dawning. Censorship might be strict, but in a centre of wealth such as Berlin it could be evaded. Inspired not by theory but by a hugely generous sympathy, he was willing for a while to be dubbed a Naturalist by Holz and Schlaf, but it was not long before he showed the more subjective side of his versatile talent.
Into their brutish milieu intrudes a journalist full of the materialist and determinist ideas of the time, who seems to their Werther-reading daughter to offer a hope of escape. But, as Fontane remarked in his review, it is a revolutionary play with an anti-revolutionary conclusion. Fontane tellingly pointed to the parallels with The age of materialism — In he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Mann was clearly thinking of himself as much as of Wagner. Few writers were as typical as he of the Second Empire middle class: in his own person he united both the bourgeoisie and the intellectuals, both Berlin and Munich.
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