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 12: Newer Archaeologies of the Soul: By Way of a Conclusion
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Newer Archaeologies of the Soul: By Way of a Conclusion
[T]o the archaeological gaze of the analyst who digs rather deeper, religion appears more like a psychodrama whose origins reach much further back, long before the invention of writing, and indeed into the earliest phylogenic roots of the human race.
–Jan Assmann (p. 46)
My purview here is limited to several European literatures, but it would not be surprising if colleagues steeped in the lore of other great cultural regions were to suggest analogues elsewhere to some of the phenomena I wish to highlight. There are almost always multiple factors involved in inflection points and crises in the successions of societies and belief systems about which we have a fairly extensive historical record or whose archaic phases we can reconstruct in some rewarding detail through archaeological means. We could start from reminders of the Renaissance obsession with cultural history and the encyclopedic habit, such as it appears in 1532 in François Rabelais’s great novel Gargantua and Pantagruel, of juxtaposing cultural eras and belief systems; or we could jump ahead and start in 1832 from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s completed cosmic drama Faust, eine Tragödie that blends some thirty centuries of history, myth, and literature. By the late seventeenth century European savants could consult such ingenious speculations on the evolution of religion as Athanasius Kircher’s Oedipus Aegyptiacus (1652) and Ralph Cudworth’s The True Intellectual...
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