In Western thought, the modern period signals a break with stagnant social formations, the advent of a new rationalism, and the emergence of a truly secular order, all in the context of an overarching globalization. In The Twilight of the Literary, Terry Cochran links these developments with the rise of the book as the dominant medium for recording, preserving, and disseminating thought. Consequently, his book explores the role that language plays in elaborating modern self-understanding. It delves into what Cochran calls the "figures of thought" that have been an essential component of modern consciousness in the age of print technology--and questions the relevance of this "print-bound" thinking in a world where print no longer dominates.
Cochran begins by examining major efforts of the eighteenth century that proved decisive for modern conceptions of history, knowledge, and print. After tracing late medieval formulations of vernacular language that proved crucial to print, he analyzes the figures of thought in print culture as they proceed from the idea of the collective spirit (the "people"), an elaboration of modern history. Cochran reconsiders basic texts that, in his analysis, reveal the underpinnings of modernity's formation--from Dante and Machiavelli to Antonio Gramsci and Walter Benjamin. Moving from premodern models for collective language to competing theories of history, his work offers unprecedented insight into the means by which modern consciousness has come to know itself.
By mastering foreign languages and reading widely, Cochran was able to write what amounts to two books in one, both focused on language. The first is historical. Beginning with Dante’s defense of vernacular languages as alternatives to monolithic Latin, the author describes how this initiated the Babel of tongues expressed in rising city and national states… Cochran points out that now technology-driven nonprint media have overwhelmed the effort to systematize and control knowledge on behalf of the middle class. Cultural crisis ensues. The second book, interwoven with the first, offers a solution. Relying on neo- (or para-) Marxists…for whom history is a plurality of contested discourses—each dominated by a prince (à la Machiavelli) or class (à la Marx)—Cochran argues that hitherto powerless subaltern groups (e.g., colonized ‘natives,’ women, etc.) can exploit the current pandemonium and displace its capitalist rulers.
Twilight of the Literary has profound consequences for those who, especially currently in the academic humanities, carry out work which they consider to be ‘new,’ ‘revisionist,’ ‘oppositional,’ or ‘postmodernist’—in general, ‘free’ of the traditions of European thinking which, rightly or wrongly, they identify as obstacles to new knowledges, identities, and social practices. Cochran’s text is impressively thorough in its analysis of the foundational processes of knowledge practices within the formations of modernity. This is a book about our world and how we might be said to have come to be who and where we are, and why, in large part, we now have so much trouble thinking about our situation.
- 304 pages
- 0-13/16 x 5-11/16 x 9 inches
- Harvard University Press
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