Bitter Carnival: Ressentiment and the Abject Hero

Princeton University Press
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"You people put importance on your lives. Well, my life has never been important to anyone. I haven't got any guilt about anything," bragged the mass-murderer Charles Manson. "These children that come at you with knives, they are your children. You taught them. I didn't teach them. . . . They are running in the streets--and they are coming right at you!" When a real murderer accuses the society he has brutalized, we are shocked, but we are thrilled by the same accusations when they are mouthed by a fictional rebel, outlaw, or monster. In Bitter Carnival, Michael Andr Bernstein explores this contradiction and defines a new figure: the Abject Hero. Standing at the junction of contestation and conformity, the Abject Hero occupies the logically impossible space created by the intersection of the satanic and the servile. Bernstein shows that we heroicize the Abject Hero because he represents a convention that has become a staple of our common mythology, as seductive in mass culture as it is in high art. Moving from an examination of classical Latin satire; through radically new analyses of Diderot, Dostoevsky, and Cline; and culminating in the courtroom testimony of Charles Manson, Bitter Carnival offers a revisionist rereading of the entire tradition of the "Saturnalian dialogue" between masters and slaves, monarchs and fools, philosophers and madmen, citizens and malcontents. It contests the supposedly regenerative power of the carnivalesque and challenges the pieties of utopian radicalism fashionable in contemporary academic thinking. The clarity of its argument and literary style compel us to confront a powerful dilemma that engages some of the most central issues in literary studies, ethics, cultural history, and critical theory today.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Mar 17, 1992
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Pages
260
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ISBN
9781400820634
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Michael André Bernstein
Galicia, Austria-Hungary, 1913. In the castle of a frontier town, on the border between Europe and the East, the worldly, corrupt Count-Governor Wiladowski watches helplessly while a wave of assassinations sweeps the empire, and his province. When a member of his own family is murdered, the count gives broad police powers to his spymaster, Jakob Tausk: a brilliant young Jew whose ruthless war on terror extends into every corner of the province and beyond, enlisting union organizers, financiers, aristocrats and their servants, and a young novelist and playwright, newly arrived in the Vienna of Franz Josef and Freud, hungry for literary success.

In the wake of new terrorist attacks, a mysterious preacher appears in the provincial capital--one of the so-called "wonder rabbis" from the shtetls of the East-trailing a band of fanatical disciples who proclaim him the messiah. Word of the charismatic leader spreads quickly from the Jewish quarter to the castle itself, and soon Tausk finds himself serving two masters: the count and the richest man in the province, Moritz Rotenburg, who has a private interest in the wonder rabbi and whose only son has returned from university, burning for revolution, to gather disciples of his own.

Moving from underground meetings and makeshift synagogues to the bedrooms of country estates and the secret high councils of the ailing thousand-year-old Habsburg Empire, Michael André Bernstein's compelling first novel evokes a densely believable world on the edge of collapse, full of the haunting suggestiveness of a fable or nightmare, and the erotic, mystical, and apocalyptic passions of an age.

Michael André Bernstein
Galicia, Austria-Hungary, 1913. In the castle of a frontier town, on the border between Europe and the East, the worldly, corrupt Count-Governor Wiladowski watches helplessly while a wave of assassinations sweeps the empire, and his province. When a member of his own family is murdered, the count gives broad police powers to his spymaster, Jakob Tausk: a brilliant young Jew whose ruthless war on terror extends into every corner of the province and beyond, enlisting union organizers, financiers, aristocrats and their servants, and a young novelist and playwright, newly arrived in the Vienna of Franz Josef and Freud, hungry for literary success.

In the wake of new terrorist attacks, a mysterious preacher appears in the provincial capital--one of the so-called "wonder rabbis" from the shtetls of the East-trailing a band of fanatical disciples who proclaim him the messiah. Word of the charismatic leader spreads quickly from the Jewish quarter to the castle itself, and soon Tausk finds himself serving two masters: the count and the richest man in the province, Moritz Rotenburg, who has a private interest in the wonder rabbi and whose only son has returned from university, burning for revolution, to gather disciples of his own.

Moving from underground meetings and makeshift synagogues to the bedrooms of country estates and the secret high councils of the ailing thousand-year-old Habsburg Empire, Michael André Bernstein's compelling first novel evokes a densely believable world on the edge of collapse, full of the haunting suggestiveness of a fable or nightmare, and the erotic, mystical, and apocalyptic passions of an age.

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