Dictations: On Haunted Writing

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9780253317124: Dictations: On Haunted Writing

Avital Ronell, author of Crack Wars and The Telephone Book, defies the undefiable. In Dictations she looks at Goethe, the dictator. A figure whose every word is treated with reverence by Germanists, Goethe is exemplary. But of what? As if teetering between life and death, Goethe was born in a legendary way: thought to be stillborn, he was brought to life by extraordinary efforts. Eighty-three years later he died, or seemed to, and was praised as an immortal spirit. His spirit immediately began to haunt. Four years later Johann Peter Eckermann published two volumes recounting his conversations with Goethe. Goethe quickly got the best of him. He spoke eerily through Eckermann to a world eager to hear his latest words. Eckermann's books are usually considered to be by Goethe, and Eckermann himself has become another of Goethe's creations. The master of Faust and Wilhelm Meister keeps coming back. He visited the dreams and anxieties of persons as sensitive as Kafka, Nietzsche, and Freud, speaking up in quotations or casting his shadow over poems, stories, and the birth pangs of psychoanalysis. He is a difficult case. Avita Ronell has never shied from the difficult. In Dictations, her first book, originally published in 1986, she starts at the edge of an abyss—the question of spirit, as exemplified by an author whose writings transcended even himself. Often invoked but never seen, spirit has been a matter literary scholars have declined to look at or look for. Here, though restless, it comes into view. In a new preface, Ronell describes the circumstances surrounding the writing and reception of the book.

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Book Description:

Channeling Goethe with one of literary criticism’s most imaginative and inimitable mediums

One of the most influential of Goethe's works is one he didn't write but dictated to a young companion. Four years after his death at the age of eighty-three, the great poet spoke again from beyond the grave in Conversations with Eckermann, Johann Peter Eckermann's account of his time with Goethe in the last years of his life. Proclaimed by Nietzsche to be “the best German book,” Conversations with Eckermann contains Goethe's last thoughts about art, poetry, politics, religion, and a host of other highly invested areas of concern for the fate of German letters and philosophy.

In Dictations, Goethe is seen as the undead core of German literary and theoretical production, the basis of a poignant code of symptoms that Avital Ronell tracks and traces. Eckermann, for Ronell, emerges as the hero of haunted writing, the toxically depleted head of the class of Goethe scholars.

About the Author:

Avital Ronell is a professor of German, comparative literature, and English at New York University, where she directs the Research in Trauma & Violence project. She is author of The Test Drive and many other books.

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Ronell, Avital
Published by Indiana Univ Pr (1986)
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