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Hesitant Heroes
     

Hesitant Heroes

by Theodore Ziolkowski
 

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

Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Ziolkowski suspects that the moment of indecision represents a crisis when an entire society is poised for change—not a crisis for the fictional hero's society but for his author's."—Mark Jarman, The Hudson Review, Autumn 2004

"This fascinating and often surprising thematic study of the unusual moments in literature when great heroes hesitate is not merely learned, but wise. Readers come to see in a new light not only Aeneas, Hamlet, Orestes, Parzival, and Wallenstein and their worlds, but also the tensions between repressive forces of civilization and human aggressiveness, between thought and action, that these hesitant heroes reveal."—Werner Sollors, author of Neither Black nor White Yet Both: Thematic Explorations of Interracial Literature and editor of The Return of Thematic Criticism

"It is difficult to point to anybody in the American academic world who is more of a true literary comparatist than Theodore Ziolkowski; few if any display the same ease and pleasure in moving through so many Western literatures, in finding connections and parallels that cross national or linguistic lines. Hesitant Heroes is particularly relevant and topical because it shows that a human type that is both frequent and, yes, even admired in our own days and societies is not really a novelty, but was perceived and lovingly depicted many hundreds or thousands of years ago, from Aeneas and Parzival to the characters of Walter Scott. Such an awareness gives our own dilemmas historical depth and dignity."—Virgil Nemoianu, author of The Taming of Romanticism: European Literature and the Age of Biedermeier

"Hesitant Heroes provides remarkable insights into the interrelations between the aesthetic conception of literary figures, their volition, and their perception of sociopolitical forces. By analyzing and comparing representative texts from different periods and cultures, Theodore Ziolkowski has made a fundamental discovery. He identifies and lucidly explains a previously unexplored literary matrix: hesitation, the moment when decision and indecision, action and inaction stand in balance. The perceptive analyses of representations and variations of this thematic cell that binds and simultaneously explodes in all directions of a text show the formation and continuation of constants that shape the thematic literary tradition."—Horst S. Daemmrich, University of Pennsylvania

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780801442032
Publisher:
Cornell University Press
Publication date:
01/28/2004
Pages:
184
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)

Meet the Author

Theodore Ziolkowski is Class of 1900 Professor of German and Comparative Literature, Emeritus, at Princeton University. He is the author of many books, Ovid and the Moderns,Clio the Romantic Muse: Historicizing the Faculties in Germany and Hesitant Heroes: Private Inhibition, Cultural Crisis, all three from Cornell.

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