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Living Streams: Continuity and Change from Rabelais to Joyce

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Gerald Gillespie

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.

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Chapter 11: The Tantric Strain in Western Literature and The Arts Since Romanticism

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CHAPTER ELEVEN

The Tantric Strain in Western Literature and The Arts Since Romanticism

Allow me to preface this meditation on “The Tantric Strain in Western Literature and Art since Romanticism” with a brutally foreshortened headnote. I will not start from the appearance of the metaphoric term tantra (loom, weave, tissue, essence) millennia ago in the Rigveda nor trace the many applications of the adjective tantric in Hindu thought, notably in Shiva doctrines and practices, including sexual, psychological, and mystical rituals of liberation. Nor is this an occasion to sketch even rudimentarily the career of things tantric in the development of Buddhism, and the special association with Tibetan beliefs. In the latter, the admission of terror over monstrous entities discoverable in the cosmos can play a considerable role. I pretend no expertise in Eastern religions; I simply want to adopt and adapt the term “tantric” because for many Western scholars since the late nineteenth century, in the words of Hugh Urban, tantra represents “the most transgressive and violent path to the sacred”. I find the term “tantric” useful as a neologism for approaching a whole range of difficult phenomena in Western cultures and pertinent to my topic at large – for example, the long tradition of a via negativa in Christianity, bodily and nocturnal metaphoricity juxtaposed to absolute nothingness in Western mystical writing, the legacy of Renaissance appropriation of cabalistic thought, radical estrangement in response to post-Enlightenment subjectivism, the Romantic agony in general, and...

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