The Terror of History: On the Uncertainties of Life in Western Civilizationby Teofilo F. Ruiz
Pub. Date: 09/26/2011
Publisher: Princeton University Press
This book reflects on Western humanity's efforts to escape from history and its terrors--from the existential condition and natural disasters to the endless succession of wars and other man-made catastrophes. Drawing on historical episodes ranging from antiquity to the recent past, and combining them with literary examples and personal reflections, Teofilo Ruiz
This book reflects on Western humanity's efforts to escape from history and its terrors--from the existential condition and natural disasters to the endless succession of wars and other man-made catastrophes. Drawing on historical episodes ranging from antiquity to the recent past, and combining them with literary examples and personal reflections, Teofilo Ruiz explores the embrace of religious experiences, the pursuit of worldly success and pleasures, and the quest for beauty and knowledge as three primary responses to the individual and collective nightmares of history. The result is a profound meditation on how men and women in Western society sought (and still seek) to make meaning of the world and its disturbing history.
In chapters that range widely across Western history and culture, The Terror of History takes up religion, the material world, and the world of art and knowledge in turn. "Religion and the World to Come" examines orthodox and heterodox forms of spirituality, apocalyptic movements, mysticism, supernatural beliefs, and many forms of esotericism, including magic, alchemy, astrology, and witchcraft. "The World of Matter and the Senses" considers material riches, festivals and carnivals, sports, sex, and utopian communities. Finally, "The Lure of Beauty and Knowledge" looks at cultural productions of all sorts, from art to scholarship.
Combining astonishing historical breadth with a personal and accessible narrative style, The Terror of History is a moving testimony to the incredibly diverse ways humans have sought to cope with their frightening history.
- Princeton University Press
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Table of ContentsPreface ix
Chapter I: The Terror of History 1
Chapter II: Religion and the World to Come 35
Chapter III: The World of Matter and the Senses 83
Chapter IV: The Lure of Beauty and Knowledge 129
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Having read the advertising for Professor Ruiz's Great Courses series of the same name, I was expecting more overlap. In the latter Ruiz discusses events and process that were not just terrible but for which human beings were responsible--the heresy and witch hunts of the period 1300-1700. Ruiz also discusses mysticism, which has plays a more prominent part here. The main terror that provides the rationale for the title of the book appears to be the plague of the first part of the 14th century, which was arguably not anthropogenic, although human responses may have made it more horrific than it had to be. Since history is usually considered to concern human action and their consequences, even if unintended, the title of this book is in some way a stretch. Ruiz investigates three responses to the plague--religious, which can be stretched to include the mystical, hedonistic, and the aesthetic/scholarly. Fair enough, but I was left wanting more and a bit different, and finally bought his Great Courses series.