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Transplanting the Metaphysical Organ: German Romanticism between Leibniz and Marx

by Leif Weatherby

Around 1800, German romanticism developed a philosophy this study calls “Romantic organology.” Scientific and philosophical notions of biological function and speculative thought converged to form the discourse that Transplanting the Metaphysical Organ reconstructs—a metaphysics meant to theorize, and ultimately alter, the structure of a politically and scientifically destabilized world.

The Entrapments of Form: Cruelty and Modern Literature

by Catherine Toal

Arguing that cruelty acquires a new meaning in modernity, The Entrapments of Form follows its evolution through exchanges between French and American literature over the contradictions of Enlightenment (slavery, genocide, libertine aristocratic privilege). Catherine Toal traces Edgar Allan Poe’s influence on the Sadean legacy, Melville’s fictional dramatization of Tocqueville, and Henry James’s response to the aesthetic of his French contemporaries, including Flaubert. The result is not simply a work that provides close readings of key literary texts of the nineteenth century—Benito Cereno, The Turn of the Screw, Les Chants de Maldoror—but one that shows how in this era cruelty develops a specific narrative structure, one that is confirmed by the manner of its negation in twentieth-century philosophy. The final chapters address this shift: the postwar French reception of Sade and the relationship between American cultural theory and the rhetoric of the so-called war on terror.

Aesthetics of Negativity: Blanchot, Adorno, and Autonomy

by William S. Allen

Maurice Blanchot and Theodor W. Adorno are among the most difficult but also the most profound thinkers in twentieth-century aesthetics. While their methods and perspectives differ widely, they share a concern with the negativity of the artwork conceived in terms of either its experience and possibility or its critical expression. Such negativity is neither nihilistic nor pessimistic but concerns the status of the artwork and its autonomy in relation to its context or its experience. For both Blanchot and Adorno negativity is the key to understanding the status of the artwork in post-Kantian aesthetics and, although it indicates how art expresses critical possibilities, albeit negatively, it also shows that art bears an irreducible ambiguity such that its meaning can always negate itself. This ambiguity takes on an added material significance when considered in relation to language as the negativity of the work becomes aesthetic in the further sense of being both sensible and experimental, and in doing so the language of the literary work becomes a form of thinking that enables materiality to be thought in its ambiguity. In a series of rich and compelling readings, William S. Allen shows how an original and rigorous mode of thinking arises within Blanchot’s early writings and how Adorno’s aesthetics depends on a relation between language and materiality that has been widely overlooked. Furthermore, by reconsidering the problem of the autonomous work of art in terms of literature, a central issue in modernist aesthetics is given a greater critical and material relevance as a mode of thinking that is abstract and concrete, rigorous and ambiguous. While examples of this kind of writing can be found in the works of Blanchot and Beckett, the demands that such texts place on readers only confirm the challenges and the possibilities that literary autonomy poses to thought.

Academics in Action!: A Model for Community-Engaged Research, Teaching, and Service

by Sandra L. Barnes Nina C. Martin Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein Bernadette Doykos Allison Mcguire

The academy is often described as an ivory tower, isolated from the community surrounding it. Presenting the theory, vision, and implementation of a socially engaged program for the Department of Human and Organizational Development (HOD) in Peabody’s College of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University, Academics in Action! describes a more integrated model wherein students and faculty work with communities, learn from them, and bring to bear findings from theory and research to generate solutions to community problems. Offering examples of community-engaged theory, scholarship, teaching, and action, Academics in Action! describes the nuanced structures that foster and support their development within a research university. Theory and action span multiple ecological levels from individuals and small groups to organizations and social structures. The communities of engagement range from local neighborhoods and schools to arenas of national policy and international development. Reflecting the unique perspectives of research faculty, practitioners, and graduate students, Academics in Action! documents a specific philosophy of education that fosters and supports engagement; the potentially transformative nature of academic work for students, faculty, and the broader society; and some of the implications and challenges of action-oriented efforts in light of dynamics such as income inequality, racism, and global capitalism. This edited volume chronicles teaching, research, and community action that influences both inside and outside the classroom as well as presents dimensions of a participatory model that set such efforts into action.

Too Great a Burden to Bear: The Struggle and Failure of the Freedmen's Bureau in Texas

by Christopher B. Bean

In its brief seven-year existence, the Freedmen’s Bureau became the epicenter of the debate about Reconstruction. Historians have only recently begun to focus on the Bureau’s personnel in Texas, the individual agents termed the “hearts of Reconstruction.” Specifically addressing the historiographical debates concerning the character of the Bureau and its sub-assistant commissioners (SACs), Too Great a Burden to Bear sheds new light on the work and reputation of these agents. Focusing on the agents on a personal level, author Christopher B. Bean reveals the type of man Bureau officials believed qualified to oversee the Freedpeople’s transition to freedom. This work shows that each agent, moved by his sense of fairness and ideas of citizenship, gender, and labor, represented the agency’s policy in his subdistrict. These men further ensured the former slaves’ right to an education and right of mobility, something they never had while in bondage.

Theory at Yale: The Strange Case of Deconstruction in America

by Marc Redfield

This book examines the affinity between “theory” and “deconstruction” that developed in the American academy in the 1970s by way of the “Yale Critics”: Harold Bloom, Paul de Man, Geoffrey Hartman, and J. Hillis Miller, sometimes joined by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida. With this semi-fictional collective, theory became a media event, first in the academy and then in the wider print media, in and through its phantasmatic link with deconstruction and with “Yale.” The important role played by aesthetic humanism in American pedagogical discourse provides a context for understanding theory as an aesthetic scandal, and an examination of the ways in which de Man’s work challenges aesthetic pieties helps us understand why, by the 1980s, he above all had come to personify “theory.” Combining a broad account of the “Yale Critics” phenomenon with a series of careful reexaminations of the event of theory, Redfield traces the threat posed by language’s unreliability and inhumanity in chapters on lyric, on Hartman’s representation of the Wordsworthian imagination, on Bloom’s early theory of influence in the 1970s together with his later media reinvention as the genius of the Western Canon, and on John Guillory’s influential attempt to interpret de Manian theory as a symptom of literature’s increasing marginality. A final chapter examines Mark Tansey’s paintings Derrida Queries de Man and Constructing the Grand Canyon, paintings that offer subtle, complex reflections on the peculiar event of theory-as-deconstruction in America.

Cytomegalovirus: A Hospitalization Diary

by Todd Meyers Hervé Guibert David Caron Clara Orban

By the time of his death, Herve Guibert had become a singular literary voice on the impact of AIDS in France. He was prolific. His oeuvre contained some twenty novels, including To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life and The Compassion Protocol. He was thirty-six years old. In Cytomegalovirus, Guibert offers an autobiographical narrative of the everyday moments of his hospitalization because of complications of AIDS. Cytomegalovirus is spare, biting, and anguished. Guibert writes through the minutiae of living and of death—as a quality of invention, of melancholy, of small victories in the face of greater threats—at the moment when his sight (and life) is eclipsed. This new edition includes an Introduction and Afterword contextualizing Guibert’s work within the history of the AIDS pandemic, its relevance in the contemporary moment, and the importance of understanding the quotidian aspects of terminal illness.

Liberation through Reconciliation: Jon Sobrino's Christological Spirituality

by O. Ernesto Valiente

In the past one hundred years alone, more than 200 million people have been killed as a consequence of systematic repression, political revolutions, or ethnic or religious war. The legacy of such violence lingers long after the immediate conflict. Drawing on the author’s experiences of his native El Salvador, Liberation through Reconciliation builds on Jon Sobrino’s thought to construct a Christian spirituality and theology of reconciliation that overcomes conflict by attending to the demands of truth, justice, and forgiveness.

Who Can Afford to Improvise?: James Baldwin and Black Music, the Lyric and the Listeners

by Ed Pavlić

More than a quarter-century after his death, James Baldwin remains an unparalleled figure in American literature and African American cultural politics. In Who Can Afford to Improvise? Ed Pavlić offers an unconventional, lyrical, and accessible meditation on the life, writings, and legacy of James Baldwin and their relationship to the lyric tradition in black music, from gospel and blues to jazz and R&B. Based on unprecedented access to private correspondence, unpublished manuscripts and attuned to a musically inclined poet’s skill in close listening, Who Can Afford to Improvise? frames a new narrative of James Baldwin’s work and life. The route retraces the full arc of Baldwin’s passage across the pages and stages of his career according to his constant interactions with black musical styles, recordings, and musicians. Presented in three books — or movements — the first listens to Baldwin, in the initial months of his most intense visibility in May 1963 and the publication of The Fire Next Time. It introduces the key terms of his lyrical aesthetic and identifies the shifting contours of Baldwin’s career from his early work as a reviewer for left-leaning journals in the 1940s to his last published and unpublished works from the mid-1980s. Book II listens with Baldwin and ruminates on the recorded performances of Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington, singers whose message and methods were closely related to his developing world view. It concludes with the first detailed account of “The Hallelujah Chorus,” a performance from July 1, 1973, in which Baldwin shared the stage at Carnegie Hall with Ray Charles. Finally, in Book III, Pavlić reverses our musically inflected reconsideration of Baldwin’s voice, projecting it into the contemporary moment and reading its impact on everything from the music of Amy Winehouse, to the street performances of Turf Feinz, and the fire of racial oppression and militarization against black Americans in the 21st century. Always with an ear close to the music, and avoiding the safe box of celebration, Who Can Afford to Improvise? enables a new kind of “lyrical travel” with the instructive clarity and the open-ended mystery Baldwin’s work invokes into the world.

Common Goods: Economy, Ecology, and Political Theology

by Melanie Johnson-Debaufre Elias Ortega-Aponte Catherine Keller

In the face of globalized ecological and economic crises, how do religion, the postsecular, and political theology reconfigure political theory and practice? As the planet warms and the chasm widens between the 1 percent and the global 99, what thinking may yet energize new alliances between religious and irreligious constituencies? This book brings together political theorists, philosophers, theologians, and scholars of religion to open discursive and material spaces in which to shape a vibrant planetary commons. Attentive to the universalizing tendencies of “the common,” the contributors seek to reappropriate the term in response to the corporate logic that asserts itself as a universal solvent. In the resulting conversation, the common returns as an interlinked manifold, under the ethos of its multitudes and the ecology of its multiplicity. Beginning from what William Connolly calls the palpable “fragility of things,” Common Goods assembles a transdisciplinary political theology of the Earth. With a nuance missing from both atheist and orthodox religious approaches, the contributors engage in a multivocal conversation about sovereignty, capital, ecology, and civil society. The result is an unprecedented thematic assemblage of cosmopolitics and religious diversity; of utopian space and the time of insurrection; of Christian socialism, radical democracy, and disability theory; of quantum entanglement and planetarity; of theology fleshly and political.

Commons Democracy: Reading the Politics of Participation in the Early United States

by Dana D. Nelson

Commons Democracy highlights a poorly understood dimension of democracy in the early United States. It tells a story that, like the familiar one, begins in the Revolutionary era. But instead of the tale of the Founders’ high-minded ideals and their careful crafting of the safe framework for democracy—a representative republican government—Commons Democracy examines the power of the democratic spirit, the ideals and practices of everyday people in the early nation. As Dana D. Nelson reveals in this illuminating work, the sensibility of participatory democratic activity fueled the involvement of ordinary folk in resistance, revolution, state constitution-making, and early national civic dissent. The rich variety of commoning customs and practices in the late colonies offered non-elite actors a tangible and durable relationship to democratic power, one significantly different from the representative democracy that would be institutionalized by the Framers in 1787. This democracy understood political power and liberties as communal, not individual. Ordinary folk practiced a democracy that was robustly participatory and insistently local. To help tell this story, Nelson turns to early American authors—Hugh Henry Brackenridge, James Fenimore Cooper, Robert Montgomery Bird, and Caroline Kirkland—who were engaged with conflicts that emerged from competing ideals of democracy in the early republic, such as the Whiskey Rebellion and the Anti-Rent War as well as the enclosure of the legal commons, anxieties about popular suffrage, and practices of frontier equalitarianism. While Commons Democracy is about the capture of “democracy” for the official purposes of state consolidation and expansion, it is also a story about the ongoing (if occluded) vitality of commons democracy, of its power as part of our shared democratic history and its usefulness in the contemporary toolkit of citizenship.

The Much-at-Once: Music, Science, Ecstasy, the Body

by Edward S. Casey Bruce W. Wilshire

In this capstone work, the late Bruce Wilshire seeks to rediscover the fullness of life in the world by way of a more complete activation of the body’s potentials. Appealing to our powers of hearing and feeling, with a special emphasis on music, he engages a rich array of composers, writers, and thinkers ranging from Beethoven and Mahler to Emerson and William James. Wilshire builds on James’s concept of the much-at-once to name the superabundance of the world that surrounds, nourishes, holds, and stimulates us; that pummels and provokes us; that responds to our deepest need—to feel ecstatically real.

Receptive Spirit: German Idealism and the Dynamics of Cultural Transmission

by Márton Dornbach

Premised on the assumption that the mind is fundamentally active and self-determining, the German Idealist project gave rise to new ways of thinking about our dependence upon culturally transmitted models of thought, feeling, and creativity. Receptive Spirit elucidates the ways in which Kant, Fichte, Schlegel, and Hegel envisioned and enacted the conjunction of receptivity and spontaneous activity in the transmission of human-made models of mindedness. Their innovations have defined the very terms in which we think about the historical character of aesthetic experience, the development of philosophical thinking, the dynamics of textual communication, and the task of literary criticism. Combining a reconstructive approach to this key juncture of modern thought with close attention paid to subsequent developments, Marton Dornbach argues that we must continue to think within the framework established by the Idealists if we are to keep our bearings in the contemporary intellectual landscape.

Realizing the Witch: Science, Cinema, and the Mastery of the Invisible

by Todd Meyers Richard Baxstrom

Benjamin Christensen’s Häxan (The Witch, 1922) stands as a singular film within the history of cinema. Deftly weaving contemporary scientific analysis and powerfully staged historical scenes of satanic initiation, confession under torture, possession, and persecution, Häxan creatively blends spectacle and argument to provoke a humanist re-evaluation of witchcraft in European history as well as the contemporary treatment of female “hysterics” and the mentally ill. In Realizing the Witch, Baxstrom and Meyers show how Häxan opens a window onto wider debates in the 1920s regarding the relationship of film to scientific evidence, the evolving study of religion from historical and anthropological perspectives, and the complex relations between popular culture, artistic expression, and concepts in medicine and psychology. Häxan is a film that travels along the winding path of art and science rather than between the narrow division of “documentary” and “fiction.” Baxstrom and Meyers reveal how Christensen’s attempt to tame the irrationality of “the witch” risked validating the very “nonsense” that such an effort sought to master and dispel. Häxan is a notorious, genre-bending, excessive cinematic account of the witch in early modern Europe. Realizing the Witch not only illustrates the underrated importance of the film within the canons of classic cinema, it lays bare the relation of the invisible to that which we cannot prove but nevertheless “know” to be there.

Commiserating with Devastated Things: Milan Kundera and the Entitlements of Thinking

by Jason M. Wirth

Commiserating with Devastated Things seeks to understand the place Milan Kundera calls “the universe of the novel.” Working through Kundera’s oeuvre as well as the continental philosophical tradition, Wirth argues that Kundera transforms—not applies—philosophical reflection within literature. Reading between Kundera’s work and his self-avowed tradition, from Kafka to Hermann Broch, Wirth asks what it might mean to insist that philosophy does not have a monopoly on wisdom, that the novel has its own modes of wisdom that challenge philosophy’s.

Redeemer Nation in the Interregnum: An Untimely Meditation on the American Vocation

by William V. Spanos Donald E. Pease

Redeemer Nation in the Interregnum interrogates the polyvalent role that American exceptionalism continues to play after 9/11. Whereas American exceptionalism is often construed as a discredited Cold War–era belief structure, Spanos persuasively demonstrates how it operationalizes an apparatus of biopolitical capture that saturates the American body politic down to its capillaries. The exceptionalism that Redeemer Nation in the Interregnum renders starkly visible is not a corrigible ideological screen. It is a deeply structured ethos that functions simultaneously on ontological, moral, economic, racial, gendered, and political registers as the American Calling. Precisely by refusing to answer the American Calling, by rendering inoperative (in Agamben’s sense) its covenantal summons, Spanos enables us to imagine an alternative America. At once timely and personal, Spanos’s meditation acknowledges the priority of being. He emphasizes the dignity not simply of humanity but of all phenomena on the continuum of being, “the groundless ground of any political formation that would claim the name of democracy.”

The Mandate of Dignity: Ronald Dworkin, Revolutionary Constitutionalism, and the Claims of Justice

by Nick Friedman Drucilla Cornell

A major American legal thinker, the late Ronald Dworkin also helped shape new dispensations in the Global South. In South Africa, in particular, his work has been fiercely debated in the context of one of the world’s most progressive constitutions. Despite Dworkin’s discomfort with that document’s enshrinement of “socioeconomic rights,” his work enables an important defense of a jurisprudence premised on justice, rather than on legitimacy. Beginning with a critical overview of Dworkin’s work culminating in his two principles of dignity, Cornell and Friedman turn to Kant and Hegel for an approach better able to ground the principles of dignity Dworkin advocates. Framed thus, Dworkin’s challenge to legal positivism enables a theory of constitutional revolution in which existing legal structures are transformatively revalued according to ethical mandates. By founding law on dignity, Dworkin begins to articulate an ethical jurisprudence responsive to the lived experience of injustice. This book, then, articulates a revolutionary constitutionalism crucial to the struggle for decolonization.

Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax

by Michael N. Mcgregor

The only biography to receive awards from both the Association of Catholic Publishers and the Catholic Press Association in 2016. A companion piece to Thomas Merton's bestselling autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain, Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax tells the story of Merton's best friend and early spiritual inspiration. Written by a close friend of Lax, Pure Act gives an intimate view of a friendship and a life that affected Merton in profound ways. It was Lax, a daringly original poet himself, who encouraged Merton to begin writing poetry and Lax who told him he should desire to be a saint rather than just a Catholic. To the end of Merton's life, Lax was his spiritual touchstone and closest friend. Pure Act tells the story of poet Robert Lax, whose quest to live a true life as both an artist and a spiritual seeker inspired Thomas Merton, Jack Kerouac, William Maxwell and a host of other writers, artists and ordinary people. Known in the U.S. primarily as Merton’s best friend and in Europe as a daringly original avant-garde poet, Lax left behind a promising New York writing career to travel with a circus, live among immigrants in post-war Marseilles and settle on a series of remote Greek islands where he learned and recorded the simple wisdom of the local people. Born a Jew, he became a Catholic and found the authentic community he sought in Greek Orthodox fishermen and sponge divers. In his early life, as he alternated working at the New Yorker, writing screenplays in Hollywood and editing a Paris literary journal with studying philosophy, serving the poor in Harlem and living in a sanctuary high in the French Alps, Lax pursued an approach to life he called pure act—a way of living in the moment that was both spontaneous and practiced, God-inspired and self-chosen. By devoting himself to simplicity, poverty and prayer, he expanded his capacity for peace, joy and love while producing distinctive poetry of such stark beauty critics called him “one of America’s greatest experimental poets” and “one of the new ‘saints’ of the avant-garde.” Written by a writer who met Lax in Greece when he was a young seeker himself and visited him regularly over fifteen years, Pure Act is an intimate look at an extraordinary but little-known life. Much more than just a biography, it’s a tale of adventure, an exploration of friendship, an anthology of wisdom, and a testament to the liberating power of living an uncommon life.

Modernity's Mist: British Romanticism and the Poetics of Anticipation

by Emily Rohrbach

Modernity’s Mist explores an understudied aspect of Romanticism: its future-oriented poetics. Whereas Romanticism is well known for its relation to the past, Emily Rohrbach situates Romantic epistemological uncertainties in relation to historiographical debates that opened up a radically unpredictable and fast- approaching future. As the rise of periodization made the project of defining the “spirit of the age” increasingly urgent, the changing sense of futurity rendered the historical dimensions of the present deeply elusive. While historicist critics often are interested in what Romantic writers and their readers would have known, Rohrbach draws attention to moments when these writers felt they could not know the historical dimensions of their own age. Illuminating the poetic strategies Keats, Austen, Byron, and Hazlitt used to convey that sense of mystery, Rohrbach describes a poetic grammar of future anteriority—of uncertainty concerning what will have been. Romantic writers, she shows, do not simply reflect the history of their time; their works make imaginable a new way of thinking the historical present when faced with the temporalities of modernity.

Redemptive Hope: From the Age of Enlightenment to the Age of Obama

by Akiba J. Lerner

This is a book about the need for redemptive narratives to ward off despair and the dangers these same narratives create by raising expectations that are seldom fulfilled. The quasi-messianic expectations produced by the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, and their diminution, were stark reminders of an ongoing struggle between ideals and political realities. Redemptive Hope begins by tracing the tension between theistic thinkers, for whom hope is transcendental, and intellectuals, who have striven to link hopes for redemption to our intersubjective interactions with other human beings. Lerner argues that a vibrant democracy must draw on the best of both religious thought and secular liberal political philosophy. By bringing Richard Rorty’s pragmatism into conversation with early-twentieth-century Jewish thinkers, including Martin Buber and Ernst Bloch, Lerner begins the work of building bridges, while insisting on holding crucial differences in dialectical tension. Only such a dialogue, he argues, can prepare the foundations for modes of redemptive thought fit for the twenty-first century.

Practicing the City: Early Modern London on Stage

by Nina Levine

In late-sixteenth-century London, the commercial theaters undertook a novel experiment, fueling a fashion for plays that trafficked in the contemporary urban scene. But beyond the stage’s representing the everyday activities of the expanding metropolis, its unprecedented urban turn introduced a new dimension into theatrical experience, opening up a reflexive space within which an increasingly diverse population might begin to “practice” the city. In this, the London stage began to operate as a medium as well as a model for urban understanding. Practicing the City traces a range of local engagements, onstage and off, in which the city’s population came to practice new forms of urban sociability and belonging. With this practice, Levine suggests, city residents became more self-conscious about their place within the expanding metropolis and, in the process, began to experiment in new forms of collective association. Reading an array of materials, from Shakespeare and Middleton to plague bills and French-language manuals, Levine explores urban practices that push against the exclusions of civic tradition and look instead to the more fluid relations playing out in the disruptive encounters of urban plurality.

They Called Me Dragon

by Gail Ann Gibbs

Huge, green, and scaly, alien Professor J’o’ Ka Joarchim can’t convince the local peasants that he’s not a man-eating monster. The villagers chain a young woman to a cliff in sacrifice to him, but she has her own ideas about that. Helping her escape only aggravates the situation, and J'o' ends up with a collection of luckless human victims, all increasingly dependent on him for their survival. Meanwhile, J'o' must keep his new pets a secret, since interfering in human society is a serious violation of Interdimensional Law. The longer he stays on Earth, the more trouble awaits him back home. THEY CALLED ME DRAGON is the story of a feisty young heroine, an assortment of outcasts, and one very confused alien as they conquer the Dark Ages and become legends in the process.

Insurgent Testimonies: Witnessing Colonial Trauma in Modern and Anglophone Literature

by Nicole M. Rizzuto

During the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth, insurgencies erupted in imperial states and colonies around the world, including Britain’s. As Nicole Rizzuto shows, the writings of Ukrainian-born Joseph Conrad, Anglo-Irish Rebecca West, Jamaicans H. G. de Lisser and V. S. Reid, and Kenyan Ng gi wa Thiong’o testify to contested events in colonial modernity in ways that question premises underlying approaches in trauma and memory studies and invite us to reassess divisions and classifications in literary studies that generate such categories as modernist, colonial, postcolonial, national, and world literatures. Departing from tenets of modernist studies and from methods in the field of trauma and memory studies, Rizzuto contends that acute as well as chronic disruptions to imperial and national power and the legal and extra-legal responses they inspired shape the formal practices of literatures from the modernist, colonial, and postcolonial periods.

Technicians of Human Dignity: Bodies, Souls, and the Making of Intrinsic Worth

by Gaymon Bennett

Technicians of Human Dignity traces the extraordinary rise of human dignity as a defining concern of religious, political, and bioethical institutions over the last half century and offers original insight into how human dignity has become threatened by its own success. The global expansion of dignitarian politics has left dignity without a stable set of meanings or referents, unsettling contemporary economies of life and power. Engaging anthropology, theology, and bioethics, Bennett grapples with contemporary efforts to mobilize human dignity as a counter-response to the biopolitics of the human body, and the breakdowns this has generated. To do this, he investigates how actors in pivotal institutions —the Vatican, the United Nations, U.S. Federal Bioethics—reconceived human dignity as the bearer of intrinsic worth, only to become frustrated by the Sisyphean struggle of turning its conceptions into practice.

Intoxication

by Philip Armstrong Jean-Luc Nancy

From Plato’s Symposium to Hegel’s truth as a “Bacchanalian revel,” from the Bacchae of Euripedes to Nietzsche, philosophy holds a deeply ambivalent relation to the pleasures of intoxication. At the same time, from Baudelaire to Lowry, from Proust to Dostoyevsky, literature and poetry are also haunted by scenes of intoxication, as if philosophy and literature share a theme that announces and navigates their proximities and differences. For Nancy, intoxication constitutes an excess that both fascinates and questions philosophy’s sober ambitions for appropriate forms of philosophical behavior and conceptual lucidity. At the same time, intoxication displaces a number of established dualities—reason and passion, mind and body, rationality and desire, rigor and excess, clarity and confusion, logic and eros. Taking its point of departure from Baudelaire’s categorical imperative to understand modernity—“be drunk always”—Nancy’s little book is composed in fragments, quotations, drunken asides, and inebriated repetitions. His contemporary “banquet” addresses a range of related themes, including the role of alcohol and intoxication in rituals, myths, divine sacrifice, and religious symbolism, all those toasts to the sacred “spirits” involving libations and different forms of speech and enunciation—to the gods, to modernity, to the Absolute. Affecting both mind and body, Nancy’s subject becomes intoxicated: Ego sum, ego existo ebrius—I am, I exist—drunk.

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