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.
With publication of The Religion War, millions of long-time fans of Scott Adams' Dilbert cartoons and business bestsellers will have to admit that the literary world is a better place with Adams on the loose spreading new ideas and philosophical conundrums.
Unlike God's Debris, which was principally a dialogue between its two main characters, The Religion War is set several decades in the future when the smartest man in the world steps between international leaders to prevent a catastrophic confrontation between Christianiy and Islam. The parallels between where we are today and where we could be in the near future are clear.
According to Adams, The Religion War targets "bright readers with short attention spans-everyone from lazy students to busy book clubs." But while the book may be a three-hour read, it's packed with concepts that will be discussed long after, including a list of "Questions to Ponder in the Shower" that reinforce the story's purpose of highlighting the most important-yet most ignored-questions in the world.
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.