Theodore Ziolkowski is professor emeritus of German and comparative literature at Princeton University.
In Gilgamesh among Us, Theodore Ziolkowski explores the surprising legacy of the poem and its hero, as well as the epic's continuing influence in modern letters and arts. This influence extends from Carl Gustav Jung and Rainer Maria Rilke's early embrace of the epic's significance-"Gilgamesh is tremendous!" Rilke wrote to his publisher's wife after reading it-to its appropriation since World War II in contexts as disparate as operas and paintings, the poetry of Charles Olson and Louis Zukofsky, novels by John Gardner and Philip Roth, and episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Xena: Warrior Princess.
Ziolkowski sees fascination with Gilgamesh as a reflection of eternal spiritual values-love, friendship, courage, and the fear and acceptance of death. Noted writers, musicians, and artists from Sweden to Spain, from the United States to Australia, have adapted the story in ways that meet the social and artistic trends of the times. The spirit of this capacious hero has absorbed the losses felt in the immediate postwar period and been infused with the excitement and optimism of movements for gay rights, feminism, and environmental consciousness. Gilgamesh is at once a seismograph of shifts in Western history and culture and a testament to the verities and values of the ancient epic.
But in every case the tower served both literally and symbolically as a refuge from the urban modernism with whose values the four writers found themselves at odds. While the classic modernists (Eliot, Woolf, Hart Crane) often singled out the broken tower as the image of a crumbling past, these writers actualized their powerful visions: Yeats and Rilke moved into medieval towers in Ireland and Switzerland, while Jeffers and Jung built themselves towers at Carmel and Bollingen as secluded spaces in which to cultivate the traditions and values they cherished. The last chapter traces this perseverance of the ancient image through its heyday in the twenties and into the present, where it has undergone renewal, institutionalization, and parody.
Originally published in 1998.
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Fascination with the arcane is a driving force in this comprehensive survey of conspiracy fiction. Theodore Ziolkowski traces the evolution of cults, orders, lodges, secret societies, and conspiracies through various literary manifestations—drama, romance, epic, novel, opera—down to the thrillers of the twenty-first century. Arguing that the lure of the arcane throughout the ages has remained a constant factor of human fascination, Ziolkowski demonstrates that the content of conspiracy has shifted from religion by way of philosophy and social theory to politics. In the process, he reveals, the underlying mythic pattern was gradually co-opted for the subversive ends of conspiracy.
Cults and Conspiracies considers Euripides’s Bacchae, Andreae’s Chymical Wedding, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, among other seminal works. Mimicking the genre’s quest-driven narrative arc, the reader searches for the significance of conspiracy fiction and is rewarded with the author’s cogent reflections in the final chapter. After much investigation, Ziolkowski reinforces Umberto Eco’s notion that the most powerful secret, the magnetic center of conspiracy fiction, is in fact "a secret without content."