Musings on Mortality: From Tolstoy to Primo Levi

University of Chicago Press
Free sample

“All art and the love of art,” Victor Brombert writes at the beginning of the deeply personal Musings on Mortality, “allow us to negate our nothingness.” As a young man returning from World War II, Brombert came to understand this truth as he immersed himself in literature. Death can be found everywhere in literature, he saw, but literature itself is on the side of life. With delicacy and penetrating insight, Brombert traces the theme of mortality in the work of a group of authors who wrote during the past century and a half, teasing out and comparing their views of death as they emerged from vastly different cultural contexts.

Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka, Virginia Woolf, Albert Camus, Giorgio Bassani, J. M. Coetzee, and Primo Levi—these are the writers whose works Brombert plumbs, illuminating their views on the meaning of life and the human condition. But there is more to their work, he shows, than a pervasive interest in mortality: they wrote not only of physical death but also of the threat of moral and spiritual death—and as the twentieth century progressed, they increasingly reflected on the traumatic events of their times and the growing sense of a collective historical tragedy. He probes the individual struggle with death, for example, through Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilych and Mann’s Aschenbach, while he explores the destruction of whole civilizations in Bassani, Camus, and Primo Levi. For Kafka and Woolf, writing seems to hold the promise of salvation, though that promise is seen as ambiguous and even deceptive, while Coetzee, writing about violence and apartheid South Africa, is deeply concerned with a sense of disgrace. Throughout the book, Brombert roots these writers’ reflections in philosophical meditations on mortality. Ultimately, he reveals that by understanding how these authors wrote about mortality, we can grasp the full scope of their literary achievement and vision.
Drawing deeply from the well of Brombert’s own experience, Musings on Mortality is more than mere literary criticism: it is a moving and elegant book for all to learn and live by.
Read more
Collapse

About the author

Victor Brombert is the Henry Putnam University Professor Emeritus of Romance and Comparative Literatures at Princeton University. He is the author of many books, including In Praise of Antiheroes: Figures and Themes in Modern European Literature, 1830–l980, also published by the University of Chicago Press, and the wartime memoir Trains of Thought. He lives in Princeton, NJ.
Read more
Collapse
Loading...

Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
Read more
Collapse
Published on
Oct 15, 2013
Read more
Collapse
Pages
208
Read more
Collapse
ISBN
9780226070933
Read more
Collapse
Read more
Collapse
Read more
Collapse
Language
English
Read more
Collapse
Genres
Literary Criticism / European / General
Literary Criticism / General
Read more
Collapse
Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
Read more
Collapse
Read Aloud
Available on Android devices
Read more
Collapse
Eligible for Family Library

Reading information

Smartphones and Tablets

Install the Google Play Books app for Android and iPad/iPhone. It syncs automatically with your account and allows you to read online or offline wherever you are.

Laptops and Computers

You can read books purchased on Google Play using your computer's web browser.

eReaders and other devices

To read on e-ink devices like the Sony eReader or Barnes & Noble Nook, you'll need to download a file and transfer it to your device. Please follow the detailed Help center instructions to transfer the files to supported eReaders.
"A beautifully cadenced work of art—it will remind some readers of Nabokov's classic Speak, Memory."—Joyce Carol Oates Paris in the 1930s—melancholy, erotic, intensely politicized—provides the poetic beginning for this remarkable autobiography by one of America's most renowned literary scholars. In Trains of Thought Victor Brombert recaptures the story of his youth in a Proustian reverie, recalling, with a rare combination of humor and tenderness, his childhood in France, his family's escape to America during the Vichy regime, his experiences in the U.S. Army from the invasion of Normandy to the occupation of Berlin, and his discovery of his scholarly vocation. In shimmering prose, Brombert evokes his upbringing in Paris's upper-middle-class 16th arrondissement, a world where "the sweetness of things" masked the class tensions and political troubles that threatened the stability of the French democracy. Using the train as a metaphor to describe his personal journey, Brombert recalls his boyhood enchantment with railway travel—even imagining that he had been conceived on a sleeper. But the young Brombert sensed that "the poetry of the railroad also had its darker side, for there was the turmoil of departures, the terror . . . of being pursued by a gigantic locomotive, the nightmare of derailments, or of being trapped in a tunnel." With time, Brombert became acutely aware of the grimmer aspects of life around him—the death of his sister, Nora, on an operating table, the tragic disappearance of his boyhood love, Dany, with her infant child, and the mounting cries of "Sale Juif," or "dirty Jew," that grew from a whisper into a thundering din as the decade drew to a close. The invasion of May 1940 dispelled the optimistic belief, shared by most of the French nation, that the horrors that had descended on Germany could never happen to them. The family was forced to flee from Paris, first to Nice, then to Spain, and finally across the Atlantic on a banana freighter to America. Discovering the excitement of New York, Brombert nonetheless hoped to return to France in an American uniform once the United States entered the war. He joined the U.S. Army in 1943, and soon found himself with General Patton's old "Hell-on-Wheels" division at Omaha Beach, then in Paris at the time of its liberation, and later at the Battle of the Bulge. The final chapter concludes with Brombert's return to America, his enrollment at Yale University, and the beginning of a literary voyage whose origins are poignantly captured in this coming-of-age story. Trains of Thought is a virtuosic accomplishment, and a memoir that is likely to become a classic account of both memory and experience.
The thirteenth century saw such a proliferation of new encyclopedic texts that more than one scholar has called it the “century of the encyclopedias.” Variously referred to as a speculum, thesaurus, or imago mundi—the term encyclopedia was not commonly applied to such books until the eighteenth century—these texts were organized in such a way that a reader could easily locate a collection of authoritative statements on any given topic. Because they reproduced, rather than simply summarized, parts of prior texts, these compilations became libraries in miniature. In this groundbreaking study, Mary Franklin-Brown examines writings in Latin, Catalan, and French that are connected to the encyclopedic movement: Vincent of Beauvais’s Speculum maius; Ramon Llull’s Libre de meravelles, Arbor scientiae, and Arbre de filosofia d’amor; and Jean de Meun’s continuation of the Roman de la Rose. Franklin-Brown analyzes the order of knowledge in these challenging texts, describing the wide-ranging interests, the textual practices—including commentary, compilation, and organization—and the diverse discourses that they absorb from preexisting classical, patristic, and medieval writing. She also demonstrates how these encyclopedias, like libraries, became “heterotopias” of knowledge—spaces where many possible ways of knowing are juxtaposed. But Franklin-Brown’s study will not appeal only to historians: she argues that a revised understanding of late medievalism makes it possible to discern a close connection between scholasticism and contemporary imaginative literature. She shows how encyclopedists employed the same practices of figuration, narrative, and citation as poets and romanciers, while much of the difficulty of the imaginative writing of this period derives from a juxtaposition of heterogeneous discourses inspired by encyclopedias. With rich and innovative readings of texts both familiar and neglected, Reading the World reveals how the study of encyclopedism can illuminate both the intellectual work and the imaginative writing of the scholastic age.
Victor Brombert is a lion in the study of French literature, and in this classic of literary criticism, he turns his clear and perspicacious gaze on the works of one of its greatest authors—Stendhal. Best remembered for his novels The Red and the Black and The Charterhouse of Parma, Stendhal is a writer of extraordinary insight into psychology and the many shades of individual and political liberty. Brombert has spent a lifetime reading and teaching Stendhal and here, by focusing on the seemingly contradictory themes of inner freedom and outer constraint within Stendhal’s writings, he offers a revealing analysis of both his work and his life.

For Brombert, Stendhal’s work is deeply personal; elsewhere, he has written about the myriad connections between Stendhal’s ironic inquiries into identity and his own boyhood in France on the brink of World War II. Proceeding via careful and nuanced readings of passages from Stendhal’s fiction and autobiography, Brombert pays particular attention to style, tone, and meaning. Paradoxically, Stendhal’s heroes often feel most free when in prison, and in a statement of stunning relevance for our contemporary world, Brombert contends that Stendhal is far clearer than any writer before him on the “crisis and contradictions of modern humanism that . . . render political freedom illusory.” Featuring a new introduction in which Brombert explores his earliest encounters with Stendhal—the beginnings of his “affair” during a year spent as a Fulbright scholar in Rome—Stendhal remains a spirited, elegant, and resonant account.
©2019 GoogleSite Terms of ServicePrivacyDevelopersArtistsAbout Google|Location: United StatesLanguage: English (United States)
By purchasing this item, you are transacting with Google Payments and agreeing to the Google Payments Terms of Service and Privacy Notice.