Subversions of history: 'The Writer Before the Revolution' and 'Man Before History' by Benjamin Fondane: a critical edition with translations, accompanying essay and notes on the translations.
MPhil(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.
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The development of Benjamin Fondane’s positions in the most salient political and philosophical debates in Europe of his time was central to his entire oeuvre, and helped him to cultivate his profound engagement with the freedom of the mind and spirit and with the relationship of the individual to history. Two of his essays stand out for their articulation of this positioning and its implications for his wider body of work: 'L’Ecrivain devant la révolution' and 'L’Homme devant l’histoire, ou le bruit et la fureur'. The former was composed in 1935 for probably the largest politicised gathering of writers ever to take place in history, the anti-fascist ‘Congrès pour la défense de la culture’ in Paris. The latter was written four years later, with Europe on the brink of war, for a debate on Nazism and history published in the journal Cahiers du Sud. They provide an illuminating insight into the thought of their times. Together, they also offer the possibility of connecting with the penetrating ideas of an author whose œuvre has been too often overlooked, especially in the English-speaking world. The translations are presented here in a critical edition, which includes an accompanying essay, notes on the translations and extensive translator’s footnotes. As Elza Adamowicz said recently in the Times Literary Supplement, “as a thinker and poet... Fondane deserves to be better known”; this work is intended as a step towards rectifying the situation. The accompanying essay introduces and contextualises each essay in turn, before opening out into an analysis of Fondane’s confrontation with philosophies of history, with the tensions between the individual’s search for meaning and the dynamics of society, and with absurdity and alienation, as well as examining his positive response to them. The genesis of Fondane’s thought, the interaction of his texts with those of his contemporaries, and possible connections with more recent thinkers are all explored along the way.
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