“A man of great wit, and little acumen, or penetration, can never succeed in jesting. Such a man proves always intolerable, with his facetious conceits, to judicious persons. His jests are merely playing on words, or puns, or allegorical, metaphorical and tropical modes of speech, and the like kinds of wit, without applying them with any acumen or penetration: and in that case he must fall into the insipid. Without acumen, a man cannot possibly guard against false thoughts: and if in jesting he thinks without acumen, he overlooks the differences of objects, and in that case may easily, by a false conceit, represent to himself a coincidence in things which greatly differ.”
In a polemical piece published in ‘The New Republic’ last month, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker made ‘an impassioned plea to neglected novelists, embattled professors, and tenure-less historians’: ‘Science is Not Your Enemy’! Gloria Origgi, in this exclusive contribution to The Berlin Review of Books, rebuts Pinker’s curious misrepresentations of the current state of the humanities. Given that Pinker’s piece comes on the heels of similar attacks from scientists against philosophy — and in light of the decline of support for humanities research and liberal education around the world — Origgi also asks the question: Why this denigration of a lively tradition of intellectual tradition? Why this attempt to reignite the infamous ‘culture wars’? Why now?
One of the most innovative and daring Hungarian writers of the 20th century, Miklós Szentkuthy wrote such masterpieces as ‘Prae’, ‘St. Orpheus’ Breviary’ (comprising 10 volumes), ‘Narcissus’ Mirror’ and many others. Thanks to recent efforts by Contra Mundum Press, much of Szentkuthy’s work is now gradually being made available in English. In this essay, writer and scholar András Nagy discusses Szentkuthy’s life and work, painting a rich portrait of a man with many masks and a vast – and lasting – literary legacy.
When do images and words become so powerful that they warrant punishment, or should be considered morally reprehensible? In this essay, Bruce Fleming, Professor of English at the U.S. Naval Academy Annapolis, reflects on the policing of speech and the increasing polarization of public debate in the United States. In an unlikely pairing, he contrasts Sarah Palin’s ‘America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith, and Flag’ with John Searle’s ‘Making the Social World’. What could a political memoir and mission statement of a presidential wannabe have to do with a scholarly work by a Berkeley philosophy professor? Read more to find out.
On the eve of the 20th anniversary of Germany’s reunification on 3 October 1990, Ulrike Guerot reconsiders Germany’s place in Europe. Having been, for the longest time, the great engine both of Europe’s economic strength and its political unity, Germany is falling out of love with, or at least is becoming more indifferent towards, the very European Union it helped to bring into existence. A new-found pragmatism and growing global ambitions — as indicated by the government’s ongoing efforts to gain a seat on the UN Security Council — show that the country’s perception of its place in a globalised world are shifting. In Europe, too, Germany is gradually replacing foreign policy by hard-nosed trade policy. The challenge to the future of the European Union is profound.
A sixteenth-century journal kept by Frantz Schmidt, a Nuremberg executioner, affords a rare insight into the gruesome world of early modern retribution. But, says author and historian Joel Harrington, beyond the facticity of all the deaths caused by “Meister Frantz”, the journal also throws light on early modern concepts of identity, social status, and the human body as well as on the development of both the picaresque and autobiographical genres. As Meister Frantz grows in both professional and storytelling experience, his accounts of the various unfortunates he encounters become both more colourful and more revealing of his inner world. Consequently, the journal unveils not so much a detailed portrait as a vivid sketch of the moral cosmology of a sixteenth-century executioner.