Beyond Hamlet and Hecuba: Irruption and Play in Carl Schmitt’s Thought

Those who read Hamlet or Hecuba from the specialist’s standpoint have often found it naïve, and maybe with good reason. Yet I do not want to linger on its worth or faults as a critical essay; I would rather try to read Schmitt’s book in the same way that he read Hamlet, as an eccentric writing, not completely closed, that deals with a subject matter but revolves around another one: Hamlet or Hecuba is something more than a piece of literary criticism.

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Czesław Miłosz on Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain

This article presents the connections between the Polish poet Czesław Miłosz and Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. Miłosz’s fascination with the German novel, which has its roots in the 1930s, changed profoundly over the decades. Not only did the poet ponder on the immense intellectual value of The Magic Mountain, but he also turned to it eagerly as a form of literary “substance” and inspiration for his own works (The Seizure of Power, A Magic Mountain). The novel left deep marks on the author of The Captive Mind, because throughout his whole life he sought references to his own life in the fictitious events and characters from Mann’s story. The chosen fragments of texts and conversations with the Polish poet enable us to investigate the history of the extraordinary connection between Miłosz and this twentieth-century epic masterpiece, indicating at the same time the key moments of this “literary relationship.”

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Telos 174 (Spring 2016): Philosophy, Literature, Theory

Telos 174 (Spring 2016): Philosophy, Literature, Theory is now available for purchase in our store.

In this issue, Telos turns to a diverse set of philosophers, contemporary and classical, and questions, concerning ethics and politics on the one hand, and literature and aesthetics on the other. More often than not, those distinctions turn out to be difficult to maintain. A case in point is the opening essay, which examines how statements by Levinas have been subjected to political readings in order to impute to him positions that he did not hold. What are the ethics of intentional misreadings? In their meticulously argued analysis, Oona Eisenstadt and Claire Elise Katz demonstrate how the philosopher’s comments in a 1982 radio interview, in the immediate aftermath of the massacres in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon, have been subjected to increasing degrees of misrepresentation, culminating in false accusations that he justified the killings. These insinuations involved fabricating quotations to put words in his mouth. Eisenstadt and Katz expose the poor philology and tendentious politics implicit in such distortion.

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An Underwhelming Apocalypse: The Islamization of France in Michel Houellebecq’s Submission

Reading the latest novel by Michel Houellebecq, I remembered an essay by Maurice Blanchot that appeared in 1964, entitled “L’Apocalypse déçoit,” roughly translatable as “The Apocalypse Disappoints.” Originally devoted to the intellectual failure on the part of the French intelligentsia to deal with the possibility of nuclear annihilation, the title of that essay seems the perfect commentary to a plot that would sound nothing less than apocalyptic to a very sizable part of contemporary French society: the election of a Muslim president of the French Republic and the Islamization of its civil code. This disastrous occurrence, currently treated in the Western media as nothing less than a catastrophic finis Europae, is narrated by Houellebecq in his increasingly understated voice, now mostly situated halfway between deadpan satire, melancholic brooding, and a touch of occasional melodrama. Gone are the violent Islamic terrorists of Plateforme, the 2001 novel that ended with terrorist attack on European sexual tourists in Thailand. No more spectacular explosions of the 9/11 kind: if the Western way of life will go, it won’t be with a bang, but with a merely audible whimper.

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Fictional Futures and Literary Pasts: Reflections on Houellebecq’s Submission

For scholars of religion and literature, Michel Houellebecq’s Submission glimmers like a shiny lure. The storyline contains the sorts of details that appeal to an easy and seductive journalistic gloss. The year is 2022. A charismatic Muslim prime minister is elected in France, and an almost caricatured series of events follows: men and women are separated; the university president converts to Islam and weds a young wife; professors are coerced to convert or retire early; and so on. Add to the plot Houellebecq’s professed Islamophobia and the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, and you have the ingredients of a newsworthy book to be addressed by critics, journalists, and readers across the world. Like a number of reviewers, I initially found myself lured to consider religion, secularism, and contemporary French politics against the backdrop of the newly published English translation. But as I began reading, I was confronted with a challenge of a different sort.

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Kafka in Eastern Europe

In “Franz Kafka in Eastern Europe,” Antonin J. Liehm addresses the impact of Kafka on both the communist literary sphere and the regime following the May 1963 Liblice Conference, an international symposium dealing with Kafka’s life and work. At first glance, this symposium does not appear to be remarkable: Kafka, known for such works as “The Metamorphosis” (1915) and “The Castle” (1926), was born in Prague in 1883, and he worked there as a lawyer before dying in 1924 in the sanatorium at Kierling, located in Klosterneuburg, Austria. Nonetheless, the symposium revealed that the socialist regimes were less totalitarian than supposed, if only for a short time, and it also attributed to Kafka a significant role in the beginning of cultural democratization, which then spread to other spheres.

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