Cover image for Hesitant heroes : private inhibition, cultural crisis
Hesitant heroes : private inhibition, cultural crisis
Ziolkowski, Theodore.
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Publication Information:
Ithaca, N.Y. : Cornell University Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xi, 163 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm
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PN56.5.H45 Z56 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Why, Theodore Ziolkowski wonders, does Western literature abound with figures who experience a crucial moment of uncertainty in their actions? In this highly original and engaging work, he explores the significance of these unlikely heroes for literature and history.From Aeneas--who wavered momentarily before plunging his sword into Turnus's chest--to Hamlet, Orestes, Parzival, Wallenstein, and others, including Kafka's Josef K., Ziolkowski demonstrates that characters' private uncertainty reveals a classic opposition of binary forces. He describes how Aeneas, for example, was forced to choose between the ancient code of blood vengeance and the new civic virtues of law and justice. Ziolkowski asserts that the indecision of the characters reflects the tensions that authors observed in their own societies. Drawing on the insights of Hegel and Freud, he analyzes the ways in which these tensions represent turning points in cultural history. In stark contrast to Aeneas, Josef K. temporized for a year before his executioners thrust a knife into his heart. For Ziolkowski, the centuries separating Virgil and Kafka are ones in which the notion of the hero was transformed almost to the point of total inversion. He sheds light on this transformation and a corresponding change in literary form.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Inspired by a rereading of Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents, Ziolkowski (Princeton Univ.), renowned comparatiste and Germanist, had the sudden intuition that moments of hesitation, i.e., inhibited or repressed action, had their counterparts in great works of literature, turning points in cultural history, epochs of conflict between value systems. He takes as his first example Aeneas's hesitation to kill Turnus at the end of the Aeneid, torn between the blood vengeance of the old heroic world and the humanitas of a new civilized society. He next turns to Orestes' hesitation to kill his mother in The Libation Bearers, then to the prolonged doubts of Wolfram's hero, Parzival, the moral dilemma of Hamlet, and finally the anxieties of Schiller's hero in the Wallenstein trilogy. In a sixth chapter Ziolkowski discusses "wavering" heroes, beginning with Sir Walter Scott's Waverly himself and proceeding through Dostoyevsky's Notes from the Underground to Kafka. The author's phenomenal learning and familiarity with various literatures is everywhere in evidence, but somehow the thread that binds this wide-ranging study together is rather tenuous. Still, the style is fluent and there is much to learn from this thematic analysis of literary heroes. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates; researchers and faculty; general readers. C. Fantazzi East Carolina University