Cover: Renunciation: Acts of Abandonment by Writers, Philosophers, and Artists, from Harvard University PressCover: Renunciation in HARDCOVER


Acts of Abandonment by Writers, Philosophers, and Artists

Add to Cart

Product Details


$49.50 • £39.95 • €44.50

ISBN 9780674967830

Publication Date: 01/04/2016


432 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches


A rich, tangled exploration, which reaches beyond renunciation narratives themselves to think about why such narratives compel, and, more complicatedly, what they say about the nature of the aesthetic, the relationship between intellectualism and intuition, and the grounds of our attachment to life itself. Moving across literature, philosophy and visual art, and exploring the work of (among others) Ludwig Wittgenstein, William James, Friedrich Nietzsche, J. D. Salinger, Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt, John Cage and Susan Sontag, Renunciation is a strenuously intricate, complex book… There is an intriguing argument throughout the book for the value of the intuitive, and of the wordless, that joins company with recent discussions of habit, reflex and the unconscious workings of our minds.—Kristy Martin, The Times Literary Supplement

Ross Posnock’s Renunciation offers a stimulating, not too confusing account of abnegation, obscurity and going AWOL from Rimbaud to Jackson Pollock, George Oppen to Agnes Martin.—John Kerrigan, The Times Literary Supplement

This is a stunning encapsulation of an elusive concept, one that is both global and ahistorical. Written as an essay, Renunciation lives its subject matter by renouncing conventional formats and discrete chapter headings. This book’s style lives out the serendipitous manner in which Posnock uncovered renunciation, the manner in which this act of freedom has permeated the culture and also how it feels. The author is brilliant in framing renunciation in terms of the relationship of thinkers and artists to modernity and the canon. Renunciation (or abandonment) is a lived response to and rejection of conformity both intellectual and public… With an overarching focus on two historical eras—the advent of the 20th century and the American postwar era—Posnock adroitly weaves together such disparate thinkers as Bob Dylan, William James, Paul Celan, Thomas Merton, and Martin Heidegger (to name just a handful) into a brilliant synthesis of intellectual history.—S. J. Shaw, Choice

Ross Posnock is justly respected as one of the most penetrating and venturesome Americanists of his generation. Renunciation is his most ambitious achievement yet, a critical summa of exceptional verve, erudition, and idiosyncratic brilliance.—Lawrence Buell, Harvard University

Ranging generously across modern fiction, poetry, music, religious thought, and philosophy, Posnock laces together an astonishing variety of figures and works, uncovering unnoticed constellations. Renunciation is a remarkable blend of immense learning and imaginative insight, one of those rare books that—to adapt Emerson, one of Posnock’s heroes—affords both instruction as well as provocation.—Robert Chodat, Boston University

Ross Posnock’s Renunciation is a breakthrough, an innovative critical cultural and intellectual history. While Posnock dwells primarily on two extended moments—the turn of the 19th into the 20th century and the post–World War II period in America—his range of reference stretches from the ancients to theorists of the post-post-modern. This volume will become a standard text, a classic useful not only to professional audiences but also to the general reader curious about how we have come to find ourselves where we are and eager to have a guide to help us think about how to move into the future.—Joan Richardson, Graduate Center, City University of New York

From Our Blog


Who We Might Have Been, and Who We Will Become

Who among us hasn’t considered what our lives would be like if we had taken alternate paths, made different decisions? Storytellers of every stripe write of the lives we didn’t have, says Andrew H. Miller, author of On Not Being Someone Else: Tales of Our Unled Lives. As we live through a worldwide pandemic, the ideas of what might have been are even more appealing. Much like the adolescents on the verge of adulthood in Sally Rooney’s novel Normal People, Miller tells us, we wait to see what comes next.