This book examines how a long line of imaginative writers, starting from Rabelais and continuing over Cervantes and Sterne down to such modernists as Proust, Mann, Joyce, and Barth, has reaffirmed the picture of an enduring Western civilization despite repeated crises and transformations. The humanist capacity to recapture a sense of European greatness as exhibited in Antiquity was paralleled by and continued in the guise of newer vernacular works, achievements regarded as vital forms of a shared cultural rebirth. This was amplified most notably in the tradition of the ironic encyclopedic novel which surveyed the state of successive phases of culture. The evolving heritage and revitalization of the arts constituted main subject matters in the series of major self-conscious epochal movements, the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and Modernism, which Postmodernism reflexively now struggles to supersede.
Chapter 1: The Dangerous but Joyful Venture of Cultural Rebirth from Rabelais to Joyce
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The Dangerous but Joyful Venture of Cultural Rebirth from Rabelais to Joyce
“Je laboureray tant et plus, et saboureray à gogo”. (“I shall strive as much and more and I shall savor aplenty”.) I begin with this line from Panurge’s Bacchic effusion when he along with the other prime characters Pantagruel, Friar John, Eudemon, Epistemon, and supposedly the author himself, François Rabelais, by boat have reached the remote shrine of the Divine Bottle in book 5 of Gargantua and Pantagruel, the symbolic goal of the dangerous but joyful humanist quest. Innumerable such statements illustrate the thrill of boundary-crossing and of discovery that the pioneering humanist Rabelais, in his novel beginning in 1532, helped build into the repertory of the European cultural system during the start of its massive outward global expansion of the past five centuries. I especially like the moment in the chapter “The Isles of Odes” (book 5, ch. 26) – the chapter title may well suggest underground the Greek word for road, thus associating it with the literary term – when Rabelais’ characters, representing the intrepid men of the Renaissance era, converse about ancient theories such as the knowledge of how our earth and the solar system whirl through space, a view recently reborn in the work of Copernicus whom the author-narrator coyly leaves unnamed, perhaps out of an abundance of caution. Nonetheless, he casually notes that people are being broken and burnt on shore...
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