Monday, November 5, 2012


"Literature presents itself to us today as a museum of perished affects. Belief in God, courtly love, honor, and so forth: we can recognize that people once felt these things, but we can’t feel them ourselves. Perhaps this anesthesia will be what future ages see as characteristic of our literature."

– Adam Kirsch (from Poetry, November 2012)

To illustrate Adam Kirsch's aphoristic observation the obvious choice was Pietro Favaro's 1956 cover-art for Adolphe Tanquerey's pamphlet, The Struggle Against the Capital Sins (these being the same sins also formerly known as the Seven Deadly ones). Priced at 15 cents, this now-rare work of piety made its way into the world under the aegis of the Catechetical Guild Educational Society of St. Paul, Minnesota.

Roberto Calasso agrees with Adam Kirsch about the impoverished condition of literature in a godless world. Writing about the heroes of Kafka's two best-known novels, Calasso explains the modern predicament this way  –

"Josef K.'s conversation with the chaplain in the cathedral corresponds to K.'s nighttime conversations in Bürgel's bedroom. In both cases the key element is exhaustion, which comes on, in both cases, as soon as the acme of lucidity has been reached. K.'s exhaustion is like Arjuna's dismay in the face of the epiphany of Krishna, like Job's mute astonishment when Yahweh evokes the Leviathan. But in place of these silences before an overwhelming vision, we find an irresistible sleepiness, which is better suited to an epoch unable to bow to epiphanies and no longer accustomed to encountering them."