Sunday, September 25, 2016

Times Literary Supplement, February 27, 2004

George Steiner declares that then 46-year-old Pierre Bouretz's 1,249 page Témoins du Futur (Gallimard, translated 2010 by Johns Hopkins University Press) has "alter[ed] the intellectual landspace." As one only two years younger than Bouretz and profoundly impressed by Steiner as a teenager, such an accolade would seem to be a career apogee.
The book covers the thought of Hermann Cohen, Emmanuel Levinas, Ernst Bloch, Leo Strauss, Franz Rosenzweig, Gershom Scholem, Walter Benjamin, Martin Buber, and Hans Jonas (several of whom I won't pretend to have heard of) and specifically their engagement, as mostly secular intellectuals, with the Jewish Messianic tradition.
At least, I think that is what the book is about; Steiner can take almost any starting point and be off and running with his tremendously erudite and wide-ranging discussions. One only hopes the book itself has observations as bold as "Bouretz's investigation seeks out the fatal logic, the doomed appositeness of the flowering of Jewish the context of Imperial and Weimar Germany, a context which was to prove its annihilation."

Next up in this issue - a biography of Salman Schocken (1877-1959) whose publishing house, located and relocated from Berlin to Tel Aviv and New York as the century progressed, exemplified his profound and life-long commitment to Kultur, but made his money as one of the pioneers of the modern department store (according to the review, the Polish Jews of his native Poznan invented the model) and is probably best know for founding the liberal Israeli daily Ha'aretz.

Gershom Scholem, who reinvigorated the Kabbalah in the 20th century is the topic of a pair of reviews and we leave the focus on 20th century Jewish intellectuals with a look at Dutch cartographers of the 16th century, a history of the Sicilian mafia, the letters of James Thurber and a review of Cloud Atlas.

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