Cloth $40.00 ISBN: 9780226924953 Published January 2013
E-book $7.00 to $32.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226924960 Published January 2013

Futurity

Contemporary Literature and the Quest for the Past

Amir Eshel

Amir Eshel

368 pages | 16 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2012
Cloth $40.00 ISBN: 9780226924953 Published January 2013
E-book $7.00 to $32.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226924960 Published January 2013
When looking at how trauma is represented in literature and the arts, we tend to focus on the weight of the past. In this book, Amir Eshel suggests that this retrospective gaze has trapped us in a search for reason in the madness of the twentieth century’s catastrophes at the expense of literature’s prospective vision. Considering several key literary works, Eshel argues in Futurity that by grappling with watershed events of modernity, these works display a future-centric engagement with the past that opens up the present to new political, cultural, and ethical possibilities—what he calls futurity.
 
Bringing together postwar German, Israeli, and Anglo-American literature, Eshel traces a shared trajectory of futurity in world literature. He begins by examining German works of fiction and the debates they spurred over the future character of Germany’s public sphere. Turning to literary works by Jewish-Israeli writers as they revisit Israel’s political birth, he shows how these stories inspired a powerful reconsideration of Israel’s identity. Eshel then discusses post-1989 literature—from Ian McEwan’s Black Dogs to J. M. Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year—revealing how these books turn to events like World War II and the Iraq War not simply to make sense of the past but to contemplate the political and intellectual horizon that emerged after 1989. Bringing to light how reflections on the past create tools for the future, Futurity reminds us of the numerous possibilities literature holds for grappling with the challenges of both today and tomorrow.
Der Tagespiegel, on the German edition
“Amir Eshel writes from the perspective of a new ethics of literary and historical narration, whose focus is a new, post-utopian humanitarianism based in remembrance of the past.”
Judith Ryan, Harvard University
“Using an appealing combination of novels by German and Israeli writers, Amir Eshel produces a powerful and refreshing argument that these texts, which look back at past events, nonetheless point forward to future solutions to the problems they address. Convincing and engaging, Futurity will open the eyes of many readers to an important but often neglected function of literature.”
Robert Alter, University of California, Berkeley
 “Amir Eshel’s Futurity is a remarkable book about contemporary German, Hebrew, and Anglo-American literature and its obsession with the catastrophic world of the twentieth century. Animated by the passionate belief that literature has the power to change us, Eshel shifts the focus away from our own obsession with this catastrophe, uncovering the dimension of the future that these texts harbor at their core. A committed and lucid reader of the literary, Eshel recovers the complexities of literary texts by reviving the humanism of Arendt’s post-catastrophic philosophy. Deeply political, Futurity makes the strongest possible case for poetic language as a practice that asserts human agency.”
Julia Hell, University of Michigan
 “Amir Eshel’s Futurity is a remarkable book about contemporary German, Hebrew, and Anglo-American literature and its obsession with the catastrophic world of the twentieth century. Animated by the passionate belief that literature has the power to change us, Eshel shifts the focus away from our own obsession with this catastrophe, uncovering the dimension of the future that these texts harbor at their core. A committed and lucid reader of the literary, Eshel recovers the complexities of literary texts by reviving the humanism of Arendt’s post-catastrophic philosophy. Deeply political, Futurity makes the strongest possible case for poetic language as a practice that asserts human agency.”
Die Zeit
 “It is a tour de force, in which German, Hebrew, and Anglo-American contemporary literature—more precisely, literature of catastrophes—is compared and linked. But what do Gütner Grass, Martin Walser, and Bernhard Schlink have in common with Abraham B. Yehoshua, Amos Oz and David Grossman, and the latter with Ian McEwan, Philip Roth, and Paul Auster? . . . [Eshel] draws a bold arch from The Tin Drum to Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness, to Auster’s Man in the Dark and Roth’s The Plot Against America—from the Holocause to the flight and expulsion of the Palestinians, to American catastrophes that remain fictions in the worsk of Auster and Roth. . . . Eshel believes that such works different cultures ‘expand the reservoir of words, images, and ideas’ which we use to create ourselves anew.”
Choice
“At a time when the pace of change seems to have the velocity of a bullet, it is refreshing to read an affirmation of literature’s sustained power to transform on a more profound, enduring level. Futurity lauds the sustainable beauty and power of real literature to outstrip the instantaneous and insubstantial veneer of wireless social networks. . . . A provocative and stimulating read.”
Contents
Acknowledgments

Introduction: Spelling out Futurity
     Writing Points to What Is “Open, Future, Possible”
      Futurity
     The Gigantic Shadows That Futurity Casts upon the Present
      Metaphors, Themes, and Plots as Causes
      Prospection, or the Practical Past
      Limitations
      Beyond Symptomatic Reading
      After “the Romance of World History”
      1989 and Contemporary Literature
      On the “Wholesale Liquidation of Futurity”
      “The Insertion of Man”
      A Literary Anthropology of the Contemporary

Part One Coming to Terms with the Future: German Literature in Search of the Past

1    Between Retrospection and Prospection
      It’s about Us and Our Future: The 2006 Günter Grass Affair
      Literature, Expansion, and Becoming
      Symptomatic Reading and Moralism
      Toward a Practical Past

2    Günter Grass: “Nothing Is Pure”
      “Once Upon a Time” as the Immediate Present: Günter Grass, The Tin Drum
      “But Even Soap Cannot Wash Pure”: Günter Grass, Dog Years
      The Hereditary Guilt: Günter Grass, My Century and Crabwalk
      Memory as Hide-and-Seek: Günter Grass, Peeling the Onion

3    Alexander Kluge: Literature as Orientation
      “What Can I Count On? How Can I Protect Myself?”
      “Worn Out”: Alexander Kluge, “The Air Raid on Halberstadt on April 8, 1945”
      On the Meaning of Care in Dark Times: Alexander Kluge, “Heidegger in the Crimea”
      Literature and the Capacity for Differentiating

4    Martin Walser: Imagination and the Culture of Dissensus
      Resisting the Norms of Public Remembrance: Martin Walser, A Gushing Fountain
      Dissensus
      “A Clear Conscience Is No Conscience at All”: The Walser-Bubis Debate Reconsidered

5    The Past as Gift
      A New Language for Remembrance
      “No More Past!”: Hans-Ulrich Treichel, Lost and Human Flight
      The Gift of Geschichte: Norbert Gstrein, The English Years
      Endowing the Past with New Meanings: Bernhard Schlink, The Reader
      On Giving: Katharina Hacker, A Kind of Love, and W. G. Sebald, Austerlitz
      The Paradoxical Achievement

Part Two Writing the Unsaid: Hebrew Literature and the Question of Palestinian Flight and Expulsion

6    The Unsaid
      Zeitschichten
      The Unsaid
      Loyalist Literature?
      Sentinel for the House of Israel

7    The Silence of the Villages: S. Yizhar’s Early War Writing
      The Great Jewish Soul: S. Yizhar, The Story of Khirbet Khizeh
      The Idealist Motivation
      The Trucks of Exile
      A Recurrent Light of Terror on the Bare Facts of Our Existence
      Falcons over New Villages: S. Yizhar, “A Story That Did Not Yet Begin”

8    “Then, Suddenly—Fire”: A. B. Yehoshua’s Facing the Forests
      Exploring the Dark Matter
      To Remember One’s Own Name
      The Day of Judgment
      The Afterlife of the Burnt Forest
9    “A Land That Devours Its Inhabitants. Its Lovers Devour Its Lovers”
       A New Generation
      “Something Horrible Happened There”: David Schütz, White Rose, Red Rose
      On Being Awfully Strong: Yehoshua Kenaz, Infiltration
      Struggling with the Nazi Beast: David Grossman, See Under: Love
      To Enter the Shared Space, to Begin: David Grossman, The Yellow Wind and Sleeping on a Wire
10  The Threads of Our Story: The Unsaid in Recent Israeli Prose
      A Gate or an Abyss? Amos Oz, A Tale of Love and Darkness and Scenes from Village Life
     “To Remind Us of What Used to Be Here. To Amend the Wrong”: Yitzchak Laor, Ecce Homo;
      Daniella Carmi, To Free an Elephant; Eshkol Nevo, Homesick; and Alon Hilu, The House of Rajani
      A Rickety Place of Hope: Michal Govrin, Snapshots

Part Three Futurity and Action

11  The Past after the “End of History”
      Mendacious Time
      The Road Ahead
      Hannah Arendt: Narrative and Action
      The Specter of a Limbo World
      To Start at Ground Level

12  Arresting Time: W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz
      Probing the Spectacle of History
      What Lies Underneath
     “Things One Would Never Have Anticipated”

13  To Do Something, to Begin
     The Fatal Quality Called Utopia: Ian McEwan, Black Dogs
     Strong and Soft Opinions: J. M. Coetzee, Diary of a Bad Year
     On the Intricacies of “Doing Good in This World”: Kazuo Ishiguro, When We Were Orphans
     A Tale of Inaction: Ian McEwan, Atonement

14 The Terror of the Unforeseen
     What the Science of History Hides: Philip Roth, The Plot against America
     Acknowledging the Multivalence of Reality: Paul Auster, Man in the Dark, and Alexander Kluge, Door by Door with a Different Life

15 On This Road: The Improbable Future
     The Dead Child, or the Looming End of Natality
     The End of Mankind: Paul Auster, Oracle Night
     Reclaiming the Victims of the Crushing Effect
     Of What Could Not Be Put Back: Cormac McCarthy, The Road
     Of the Possibility of Making Things Happen in the Future

Coda: Toward a Hermeneutic of Futurity
Notes
Index
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