Synopses & Reviews
Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben is the rare writer whose ideas and works have a broad appeal across many fields, and his devoted fans are not just philosophers, but readers of political and legal theory, sociology, and literary criticism as well. Agambenandrsquo;s intuition and meditation are fascinating, and not least when he turns his critical eye to the mysteries and contradictions of early religion.The Unspeakable Girl: The Myth and Mystery of Kore is a book of three richly detailed treatments of the myth of Kore. Kore, also called Persephone, and referred to poetically by the Greeks as andldquo;the unspeakable girl,andrdquo; was the daughter of Demeter and Zeus who was abducted by Hades and made queen of the netherworld. Kore and her story gave rise to a mysterious cult at Eleusis, the site of the well where Demeter mourned her lost daughter. This book opens with an innovative and insightful essay that focuses on the mysterious indeterminacy of the figure of Kore/Persephoneandmdash;at once a woman and a girl, a virgin and a motherandmdash;as well as the attendant divisions of speech and silence, the sacred and the profane, the animal and the human, and the mortal and the divine. Here, tracing these dichotomies, Agamben is in top form, able to articulate paradoxes that in another writerandrsquo;s hands might be ineffable. In the second and third parts of the book the reader is treated to a series of beautiful paintings by acclaimed artist Monica Ferrando, as well as her translation of crucial Greek and Latin source materials. As a whole, The Unspeakable Girl will not only be welcomed by Agambenandrsquo;s many readers across the disciplines, but also by enthusiasts of classical mythology in general.
andldquo;What is distinctive about Agambenandrsquo;s presentation of this story is the way he highlights the role of Judaic-Christian concepts like creation and free will in helping to bring about a sense of beingandmdash;a temporalization and historicization of beingandmdash;that dissolves the unified grounded cosmos of the pagan tradition. . . . In the course of the six chapters making up this well-designed little book (handsomely illustrated by Ferrando, who also provides a useful selection from ancient sources at the back), Agamben touches on various intertwined topics: the relation of the mystery cults to European painting, to early Hegel, and to the image philosophies of Warburg and Benjamin; the essentially comic, not tragic, character of the Eleusinian rituals; the Dionysian animality or monstrosity of the triple goddess and the Medusan aspect of the kore or divine child in particular; and, finally, the research of Odo Casel, a twentieth-century German Benedictine monk, for whom Christian liturgy was in essence not doctrine but mystery.andrdquo;
In 1900, art historians André Jolles and Aby Warburg constructed an experimental dialogue in which Jolles supposed he had fallen in love with the figure of a young woman in a painting: “A fantastic figure—shall I call her a servant girl, or rather a classical nymph?…what is the meaning of it all?…Who is the nymph? Where does she come from?” Warburg’s response: “in essence she is an elemental spirit, a pagan goddess in exile,” serves as the touchstone for this wide-ranging and theoretical exploration of female representation in iconography.
In Nymphs, the newest translation of Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s work, the author notes that academic research has lingered on the “pagan goddess,” while the concept of “elemental spirit,” ignored by scholars, is vital to the history of iconography. Tracing the genealogy of this idea, Agamben goes on to examine subjects as diverse as the aesthetic theories of choreographer Domineco da Piacenza, Friedrich Theodor Vischer’s essay on the “symbol,” Walter Benjamin’s concept of the dialectic image, and the bizarre discoveries of photographer Nathan Lerner in 1972. From these investigations, there emerges a startlingly original exploration of the ideas of time and the image.
Agamben is the rare writer whose ideas and works have a broad appeal across many fields, and Nymphs will engage not only the author’s devoted fans in philosophy, legal theory, sociology, and literary criticism, but his growing audience among art theorists and historians as well.
About the Author
Giorgio Agamben is the author of more than fifteen books on topics ranging from aesthetics to poetics, ontology to political philosophy. He is best known for his Homo Sacer series. In 2012, Seagull Books has published Agamben’s The Church and the Kingdom and The Unspeakable Girl.Kevin McLaughlin is the Nicholas Brown Professor of Oratory and Belles Lettres and professor of English, comparative literature and German studies at Brown University, Providence, RI. He is the author of two books: Writing in Parts: Imitation and Exchange in 19th-Century Literature and Paperwork: Fiction and Mass Mediacy in the Paper Age. He is also cotranslator of Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project. Amanda Minervini teaches Italian Studies at Brown University, Providence, RI.
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