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 2: Looking Through Windows of Time: Illustrative Moments of Vision in Literature since the Renaissance
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Looking Through Windows of Time: Illustrative Moments of Vision in Literature Since the Renaissance
There is a plenteous repertory of ancient and medieval works in which the author allows us to peer through an aperture in time at a realm outside our condition or to perceive that something beyond us is intruding into time for a purpose and to guide us. Divine intervention into earlier human history on the part of various deities, spirits, and forces and eventually by the Savior in Christian teaching is the primary pattern. Not infrequently the numinous occurrence is to impart information about events in advance of their historical unfolding. Here I will invoke just the extreme example of Dante’s La divina commedia (written circa 1308 ff.) as a starting point and afterwards adduce Arthur Schopenhauer’s philosophy in Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (The World as Will and Representation, 1818) as a kind of penultimate ending point. In the Commedia we almost instantly exit from the usual world of the late Middle Ages at the mid-point of the first-person narrator’s life to descend into the other world of Hell and then to ascend by way of Purgatory past the lost Garden of Eden into the almost unimaginable glory of Paradise; and our never actually executed exit from the poem, too, is swift and lofty, as we sense the power of divine love that drives the stars and everything. In the footsteps of Dante, John...
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