On Creaturely Life: Rilke, Benjamin, Sebald

University of Chicago Press
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In his Duino Elegies, Rainer Maria Rilke suggests that animals enjoy direct access to a realm of being—the open—concealed from humans by the workings of consciousness and self-consciousness. In his own reading of Rilke, Martin Heidegger reclaims the open as the proper domain of human existence but suggests that human life remains haunted by vestiges of an animal-like relation to its surroundings. Walter Benjamin, in turn, was to show that such vestiges—what Eric Santner calls the creaturely—have a biopolitical aspect: they are linked to the processes that inscribe life in the realm of power and authority.

Santner traces this theme of creaturely life from its poetic and philosophical beginnings in the first half of the twentieth century to the writings of the enigmatic German novelist W. G. Sebald. Sebald’s entire oeuvre, Santner argues, can be seen as an archive of creaturely life. For Sebald, the work on such an archive was inseparable from his understanding of what it means to engage ethically with another person’s history and pain, an engagement that transforms us from indifferent individuals into neighbors.

An indispensable book for students of Sebald, On Creaturely Life is also a significant contribution to critical theory.
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About the author

Eric L. Santner is the Philip and Ida Romberg Professor in Modern Germanic Studies, professor of Germanic studies, and a member of the Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Chicago. He is the author of several books, most recently On Creaturely Life: Rilke, Benjamin, Sebald, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Jun 24, 2009
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Pages
216
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ISBN
9780226735054
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / European / German
Philosophy / Criticism
Philosophy / General
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This content is DRM protected.
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"The king is dead. Long live the king!" In early modern Europe, the king's body was literally sovereign—and the right to rule was immediately transferrable to the next monarch in line upon the king's death. In The Royal Remains, Eric L. Santner argues that the "carnal" dimension of the structures and dynamics of sovereignty hasn't disappeared from politics. Instead, it migrated to a new location—the life of the people—where something royal continues to linger in the way we obsessively track and measure the vicissitudes of our flesh.

Santner demonstrates the ways in which democratic societies have continued many of the rituals and practices associated with kingship in displaced, distorted, and usually, unrecognizable forms. He proposes that those strange mental activities Freud first lumped under the category of the unconscious—which often manifest themselves in peculiar physical ways—are really the uncanny second life of these "royal remains," now animated in the body politic of modern neurotic subjects. Pairing Freud with Kafka, Carl Schmitt with Hugo von Hofmannsthal,and Ernst Kantorowicz with Rainer Maria Rilke, Santner generates brilliant readings of multiple texts and traditions of thought en route to reconsidering the sovereign imaginary. Ultimately, The Royal Remains locates much of modernity—from biopolitical controversies to modernist literary experiments—in this transition from subjecthood to secular citizenship.

This major new work will make a bold and original contribution to discussions of politics, psychoanalysis, and modern art and literature.
"All art should become science and all science art; poetry and philosophy should be made one." Friedrich Schlegel's words perfectly capture the project of the German Romantics, who believed that the aesthetic approaches of art and literature could reveal patterns and meaning in nature that couldn't be uncovered through rationalistic philosophy and science alone. In this wide-ranging work, Robert J. Richards shows how the Romantic conception of the world influenced (and was influenced by) both the lives of the people who held it and the development of nineteenth-century science.

Integrating Romantic literature, science, and philosophy with an intimate knowledge of the individuals involved—from Goethe and the brothers Schlegel to Humboldt and Friedrich and Caroline Schelling—Richards demonstrates how their tempestuous lives shaped their ideas as profoundly as their intellectual and cultural heritage. He focuses especially on how Romantic concepts of the self, as well as aesthetic and moral considerations—all tempered by personal relationships—altered scientific representations of nature. Although historians have long considered Romanticism at best a minor tributary to scientific thought, Richards moves it to the center of the main currents of nineteenth-century biology, culminating in the conception of nature that underlies Darwin's evolutionary theory.

Uniting the personal and poetic aspects of philosophy and science in a way that the German Romantics themselves would have honored, The Romantic Conception of Life alters how we look at Romanticism and nineteenth-century biology.
In On the Psychotheology of Everyday Life, Eric Santner puts Sigmund Freud in dialogue with his contemporary Franz Rosenzweig in the service of reimagining ethical and political life. By exploring the theological dimensions of Freud's writings and revealing unexpected psychoanalytic implications in the religious philosophy of Rosenzweig's masterwork, The Star of Redemption, Santner makes an original argument for understanding religions of revelation in therapeutic terms, and offers a penetrating look at how this understanding suggests fruitful ways of reconceiving political community.

Santner's crucial innovation in this new study is to bring the theological notion of revelation into a broadly psychoanalytic field, where it can be understood as a force that opens the self to everyday life and encourages accountability within the larger world. Revelation itself becomes redefined as an openness toward what is singular, enigmatic, even uncanny about the Other, whether neighbor or stranger, thereby linking a theory of drives and desire to a critical account of sociality. Santner illuminates what it means to be genuinely open to another human being or culture and to share and take responsibility for one's implication in the dilemmas of difference.

By bringing Freud and Rosenzweig together, Santner not only clarifies in new and surprising ways the profound connections between psychoanalysis and the Judeo-Christian tradition, he makes the resources of both available to contemporary efforts to rethink concepts of community and cross-cultural communication.
In November 1893, Daniel Paul Schreber, recently named presiding judge of the Saxon Supreme Court, was on the verge of a psychotic breakdown and entered a Leipzig psychiatric clinic. He would spend the rest of the nineteenth century in mental institutions. Once released, he published his Memoirs of My Nervous Illness (1903), a harrowing account of real and delusional persecution, political intrigue, and states of sexual ecstasy as God's private concubine. Freud's famous case study of Schreber elevated the Memoirs into the most important psychiatric textbook of paranoia. In light of Eric Santner's analysis, Schreber's text becomes legible as a sort of "nerve bible" of fin-de-siècle preoccupations and obsessions, an archive of the very phantasms that would, after the traumas of war, revolution, and the end of empire, coalesce into the core elements of National Socialist ideology.

The crucial theoretical notion that allows Santner to pass from the "private" domain of psychotic disturbances to the "public" domain of the ideological and political genesis of Nazism is the "crisis of investiture." Schreber's breakdown was precipitated by a malfunction in the rites and procedures through which an individual is endowed with a new social status: his condition became acute just as he was named to a position of ultimate symbolic authority. The Memoirs suggest that we cross the threshold of modernity into a pervasive atmosphere of crisis and uncertainty when acts of symbolic investiture no longer usefully transform the subject's self understanding. At such a juncture, the performative force of these rites of institution may assume the shape of a demonic persecutor, some "other" who threatens our borders and our treasures. Challenging other political readings of Schreber, Santner denies that Schreber's delusional system--his own private Germany--actually prefigured the totalitarian solution to this defining structural crisis of modernity. Instead, Santner shows how this tragic figure succeeded in avoiding the totalitarian temptation by way of his own series of perverse identifications, above all with women and Jews.

In Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud made abundantly clear what he thought about the biblical injunction, first articulated in Leviticus 19:18 and then elaborated in Christian teachings, to love one's neighbor as oneself. “Let us adopt a naive attitude towards it,” he proposed, “as though we were hearing it for the first time; we shall be unable then to suppress a feeling of surprise and bewilderment.” After the horrors of World War II, the Holocaust, and Stalinism, Leviticus 19:18 seems even less conceivable—but all the more urgent now—than Freud imagined.

In The Neighbor, three of the most significant intellectuals working in psychoanalysis and critical theory collaborate to show how this problem of neighbor-love opens questions that are fundamental to ethical inquiry and that suggest a new theological configuration of political theory. Their three extended essays explore today's central historical problem: the persistence of the theological in the political. In “Toward a Political Theology of the Neighbor,” Kenneth Reinhard supplements Carl Schmitt’s political theology of the enemy and friend with a political theology of the neighbor based in psychoanalysis. In “Miracles Happen,” Eric L. Santner extends the book's exploration of neighbor-love through a bracing reassessment of Benjamin and Rosenzweig. And in an impassioned plea for ethical violence, Slavoj Žižek’s “Neighbors and Other Monsters” reconsiders the idea of excess to rehabilitate a positive sense of the inhuman and challenge the influence of Levinas on contemporary ethical thought.

A rich and suggestive account of the interplay between love and hate, self and other, personal and political, The Neighbor has proven to be a touchstone across the humanities and a crucial text for understanding the persistence of political theology in secular modernity. This new edition contains a new preface by the authors.
In On the Psychotheology of Everyday Life, Eric Santner puts Sigmund Freud in dialogue with his contemporary Franz Rosenzweig in the service of reimagining ethical and political life. By exploring the theological dimensions of Freud's writings and revealing unexpected psychoanalytic implications in the religious philosophy of Rosenzweig's masterwork, The Star of Redemption, Santner makes an original argument for understanding religions of revelation in therapeutic terms, and offers a penetrating look at how this understanding suggests fruitful ways of reconceiving political community.

Santner's crucial innovation in this new study is to bring the theological notion of revelation into a broadly psychoanalytic field, where it can be understood as a force that opens the self to everyday life and encourages accountability within the larger world. Revelation itself becomes redefined as an openness toward what is singular, enigmatic, even uncanny about the Other, whether neighbor or stranger, thereby linking a theory of drives and desire to a critical account of sociality. Santner illuminates what it means to be genuinely open to another human being or culture and to share and take responsibility for one's implication in the dilemmas of difference.

By bringing Freud and Rosenzweig together, Santner not only clarifies in new and surprising ways the profound connections between psychoanalysis and the Judeo-Christian tradition, he makes the resources of both available to contemporary efforts to rethink concepts of community and cross-cultural communication.
"The king is dead. Long live the king!" In early modern Europe, the king's body was literally sovereign—and the right to rule was immediately transferrable to the next monarch in line upon the king's death. In The Royal Remains, Eric L. Santner argues that the "carnal" dimension of the structures and dynamics of sovereignty hasn't disappeared from politics. Instead, it migrated to a new location—the life of the people—where something royal continues to linger in the way we obsessively track and measure the vicissitudes of our flesh.

Santner demonstrates the ways in which democratic societies have continued many of the rituals and practices associated with kingship in displaced, distorted, and usually, unrecognizable forms. He proposes that those strange mental activities Freud first lumped under the category of the unconscious—which often manifest themselves in peculiar physical ways—are really the uncanny second life of these "royal remains," now animated in the body politic of modern neurotic subjects. Pairing Freud with Kafka, Carl Schmitt with Hugo von Hofmannsthal,and Ernst Kantorowicz with Rainer Maria Rilke, Santner generates brilliant readings of multiple texts and traditions of thought en route to reconsidering the sovereign imaginary. Ultimately, The Royal Remains locates much of modernity—from biopolitical controversies to modernist literary experiments—in this transition from subjecthood to secular citizenship.

This major new work will make a bold and original contribution to discussions of politics, psychoanalysis, and modern art and literature.
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