Paranoia and Modernity. From Cervantes to Rousseau, by John Farell

par Alexandre Gefen (source : VERGAI ALESSIA)
Don Quixote is the first great modern paranoid adventurer. . . . Grandiosity and persecution define the characters of Swift's Gulliver, Stendhal's Julien Sorel, Melville's Ahab, Dostoyevsky's Underground Man, Ibsen's Masterbuilder Solness, Strindberg's Captain (in The Father), Kafka's K., and Joyce's autobiographical hero Stephen Dedalus. . . . The all-encompassing conspiracy, very much in its original Rousseauvian cast, has become almost the normal way of representing society and its institutions since World War Two, giving impetus to heroic plots and counter-plots in a hundred films and in the novels of Burroughs, Heller, Ellison, Pynchon, Kesey, Mailer, DeLillo, and others.”—from Paranoia and Modernity

Paranoia, suspicion, and control have preoccupied key Western intellectuals since the sixteenth century. Paranoia is a dominant concern in modern literature, and its peculiar constellation of symptoms—grandiosity, suspicion, unfounded hostility, delusions of persecution and conspiracy—are nearly obligatory psychological components of the modern hero.

How did paranoia come to the center of modern moral and intellectual consciousness? In Paranoia and Modernity, John Farrell brings literary criticism, psychology, and intellectual history to the attempt at an answer. He demonstrates the connection between paranoia and the long history of struggles over the question of agency—the extent to which we are free to act and responsible for our actions. He addresses a wide range of major authors from the late Middle Ages to the eighteenth century, among them Luther, Bacon, Cervantes, Descartes, Hobbes, Pascal, La Rochefoucauld, Swift, and Rousseau. Farrell shows how differently paranoid psychology looks at different historical junctures with different models of agency, and in the epilogue, “Paranoia and Postmodernism,” he draws the implications for recent critical debates in the humanities.

Reviews“Paranoia and Modernity is a dazzling and exhilarating genealogy of modern Western suspicion. With shrewd discernment and understated wit, John Farrell shows how misanthropic distrust, once an object of general satire, became the received wisdom of intellectuals. His book is itself a satire, though a very learned and scrupulous one, on the folly of religious and philosophical systems that pay no heed to our common humanity. Farrell combines psychological and critical acuity, historical breadth, and moral irony in a way that leaves this reader gasping with admiration. Paranoia and Modernity is nothing less than a masterpiece.”—Frederick Crews

“The effect of John Farrell's intellectual historical overview is both bracing and convincing. I particularly enjoy (and endorse) his notion that the idealism and moral perfectionism exhibited not only by Luther's anxieties about the state of his immortal soul but also by Don Quixote's fantasies of chivalric excellence lie at the root of the anti-idealist sense of alienated human degradation that characterizes our post-Rousseauvian modernity. This book supplies a way out of the nihilist impasse in which so much contemporary cultural criticism seems trapped.”—Christopher Braider, University of Colorado at Boulder

“In Paranoia and Modernity, paranoia represents the compulsive need to hold others responsible for one's failure to match ideality to reality. John Farrell's provocative readings of some heady and often-read texts establish paranoia as one way to explain the discrepancy between lofty cultural or personal ideals and the reality that brings them too often to earth.”—Thomas DiPiero, University of Rochester

About the AuthorJohn Farrell is Professor of Literature at Claremont McKenna College. He is the author of Freud's Paranoid Quest: Psychoanalysis and Modern Suspicion.

Subject AreasLiterature / Europe
Comparative Literature
Literary Theory & Criticism

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