Nihilism and Prophecy in the Novel
- John Brenkman (CUNY Graduate Center and Baruch College), Sorin Radu Cucu (Baruch College)
How might novel theory be brought to bear on some of the most unsettling questions in modern and postmodern philosophy? The novel is presumed to be a secularizing force in modern culture, yet it has engaged with prophetic discourse and apocalyptic visions from Grimmelshausen to Primo Levi, from The Brothers Karamozov to The Trial, from Moby Dick to Gravity’s Rainbow, from Things Fall Apart to 2066. In contemporary philosophy, the notions of “onto-theology” and “political theology” have arisen to probe intractable intellectual and political ambiguities of modernity. And in recent history, global threats—from the nuclear tensions during the Cold War to the current crises of economy, ecology, and terrorism—have suffused political discourse, on the left and the right, with images of destruction and extinction, often evoking analogy to the Holocaust. How does the art of the novel intervene into this philosophico-political turbulence?
- How does the novel refashion the prophetic tradition, and has it done so in keeping with or in opposition to the tradition of apocalytic vision?
- How does the view that democracy is intriniscally ungrounded (Arendt, Lefort) relate to the valuation of the novel as an intrinsically democratic form (Rushdie, Kundera)?
- How do novelistic discourse and political discourse interact in the context of global phenomena such as the Cold War, the collapse of Soviet communism, the rise of Islamism, or the Great Recession?
- How does the novel answer the challenge that Gianni Vattimo provocatively advances in saying that “nihilsm is our (only) hope”?