In a work of remarkable synthesis that includes traditions and genres from antiquity to postmodernity, Posnock discovers connections among disparate figures ranging from Lao Tzu to Dave Chappelle and Bob Dylan. The thread running through these acts of renunciation, he argues, is an aesthetic and ethical resistance to the demand that one’s words and actions be straightforward and immediately comprehensible. Modern art in particular valorizes the nonconceptual and the intuitive, seeking to make silence articulate and incompletion fertile.
Renouncers reject not only artistic and scholarly conventions but also the public roles that attend them. Wittgenstein, Rimbaud, and Glenn Gould brazenly flouted professional and popular expectations, demanding that philosophy, poetry, music play by new rules. Emerson and Nietzsche severed all institutional ties, while William James waged a guerrilla campaign from his post at Harvard against what all three considered to be the enemy: the pernicious philosophical insistence on rationality. Posnock also examines renunciations in light of World War IIthe veterans J. D. Salinger and George Oppen, and the Holocaust survivor Paul Celanwhile a fourth cluster includes the mystic Thomas Merton and the abstract painters Ad Reinhardt and Agnes Martin.
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About the Author
Table of Contents
Part 1 William James, Arthur Rimbaud, Stephane Mallarmé, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Jackson Pollock, Bob Dylan, Susan Sontag 67
Part 2 J. D. Salinger, Thomas Merton, Ad Reinhardt 135
Part 3 Søren Kierkegaard, Regine Olsen, Franz Kafka, Felice Bauer, Philip Rieff, Susan Sontag 208
Part 4 Glenn Gould, Thomas Bernhard 238
Part 5 Ludwig Wittgenstein 264
Part 6 Ralph Waldo Emerson, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ludwig Wittgenstein 282
Part 7 George Oppen, Paul Celan 330
Part 8 Agnes Martin 364
Works Cited and Consulted 381