Synopses & Reviews
Renunciation as a creative force in the careers of writers, philosophers, and artists is the animating idea behind Ross Posnock's new book. Taking up acts of abandonment, rejection, and refusal that have long baffled critics, he shows how renunciation has reframed the relationship of artists and intellectuals to society in productive and unpredictable ways.
In a work of remarkable synthesis that includes traditions and genres from antiquity to postmodernity, Posnock discovers connections among disparate figures ranging from Lao Tzu to Dave Chappelle and Bob Dylan. The thread running through these acts of renunciation, he argues, is an aesthetic and ethical resistance to the demand that one's words and actions be straightforward and immediately comprehensible. Modern art in particular valorizes the nonconceptual and the intuitive, seeking to make silence articulate and incompletion fertile.
Renouncers reject not only artistic and scholarly conventions but also the public roles that attend them. Wittgenstein, Rimbaud, and Glenn Gould brazenly flouted professional and popular expectations, demanding that philosophy, poetry, music play by new rules. Emerson and Nietzsche severed all institutional ties, while William James waged a guerrilla campaign from his post at Harvard against what all three considered to be the enemy: the pernicious philosophical insistence on rationality. Posnock also examines renunciations in light of World War II--the veterans J. D. Salinger and George Oppen, and the Holocaust survivor Paul Celan--while a fourth cluster includes the mystic Thomas Merton and the abstract painters Ad Reinhardt and Agnes Martin.
Ross Posnock's Renunciation is a breakthrough, an innovative critical cultural and intellectual history. While Posnock dwells primarily on two extended moments--the turn of the 19th into the 20th century and the post-World War II period in America--his range of reference stretches from the ancients to theorists of the post-post-modern. This volume will become a standard text, a classic useful not only to professional audiences but also to the general reader curious about how we have come to find ourselves where we are and eager to have a guide to help us think about how to move into the future. Joan Richardson, Graduate Center, City University of New York
Ross Posnock is justly respected as one of the most penetrating and venturesome Americanists of his generation. Renunciation is his most ambitious achievement yet, a critical summa of exceptional verve, erudition, and idiosyncratic brilliance. Lawrence Buell, Harvard University
Ranging generously across modern fiction, poetry, music, religious thought, and philosophy, Posnock laces together an astonishing variety of figures and works, uncovering unnoticed constellations. Renunciation is a remarkable blend of immense learning and imaginative insight, one of those rare books that--to adapt Emerson, one of Posnock's heroes--affords both instruction as well as provocation. Robert Chodat, Boston University
Renunciation as a creative force is the animating idea behind Ross Posnock's new book. Taking up acts of abandonment, rejection, and refusal that have long baffled critics, he shows how renunciation has reframed the relationship of writers, philosophers, and artists to society in productive and unpredictable ways.
About the Author
Ross Posnock is Anna Garbedian Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University.
Professor of English, New York University