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Literature and Weak Thought

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Andrzej Zawadzki

This book is a reconstruction and presentation of the fundamental assumptions of the so-called weak thought, as elaborated mainly by the Italian hermeneutical philosopher Gianni Vattimo and the Romanian philosopher Constantin Noica in his ontology. Both Noica and Vattimo focus on all that is existentially fragile, deficient, crippled or defective. The way in which weak being manifests itself can be best expressed by using the concept of the trace. Some motifs of weak thought serve to reinterpret certain fundamental concepts of poetics, firstly, the concept of mimesis, treated here as a kind of tracing, and secondly, the concept of the textual subject as a trace. The book also describes these tendencies in modern literature in which the intuition of weak being has most fully expressed itself. In general terms, this intuition is that of a reality that has lost its substantiality and essentiality. This intuition is most frequently expressed by the motif of the trace in its various different meanings: as the imprint, the remnant, the sign-message.

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I. WEAK THOUGHT: PHILOSOPHICAL FOUNDATIONS

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Introduction The basic aims of this book are: 1) to capture and describe the fundamental characteristics of so-called “weak thought” in contemporary philosophy; 2) to show in a reasonably thorough and exhaustive manner its links with modern literature; and 3) to point towards possible applications of its basic assumptions within the field of literary studies. Clearly these three distinct problem clusters constitute, to a significant extent, separate and autonomous areas of inquiry: philosophy, literary history and literary theory. Therefore, capturing the titular “weakness” in each of these separate areas clearly demands the adoption of a slightly different perspective and the application of slightly different descriptive language and analytical tools. Nevertheless, I consider that the combined treatment of phenomena traditionally belonging to the separate domains of philosophy and literary studies – in both its historical and theoretical varieties – is possible and justified for three fundamental reasons. First of all, this is because weak thought itself grants aesthetic experience, including its literary dimension, an essential, even fundamental role – and a privileged role in relation to other discourses and practices – in the interpretation of the experience of the being, subjectivity and culture characteristic of late modernity in particular. It is precisely literature and modern art that have captured and depicted through artistic intuition many of the phenomena and problems described by weak thought in the language of philosophical discourse. Moreover, this discourse has sometimes boldly reached for means or forms of expression bearing a strong affinity with literature, such as metaphor or the generic...

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