The Terror of History

The Terror of History: On the Uncertainties of Life in Western Civilization

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    The Terror of History
    Book Description:

    This book reflects on Western humanity's efforts to escape from history and its terrors--from the existential condition and natural disasters to the endless succession of wars and other man-made catastrophes. Drawing on historical episodes ranging from antiquity to the recent past, and combining them with literary examples and personal reflections, Teofilo Ruiz explores the embrace of religious experiences, the pursuit of worldly success and pleasures, and the quest for beauty and knowledge as three primary responses to the individual and collective nightmares of history. The result is a profound meditation on how men and women in Western society sought (and still seek) to make meaning of the world and its disturbing history.

    In chapters that range widely across Western history and culture,The Terror of Historytakes up religion, the material world, and the world of art and knowledge. "Religion and the World to Come" examines orthodox and heterodox forms of spirituality, apocalyptic movements, mysticism, supernatural beliefs, and many forms of esotericism, including magic, alchemy, astrology, and witchcraft. "The World of Matter and the Senses" considers material riches, festivals and carnivals, sports, sex, and utopian communities. Finally, "The Lure of Beauty and Knowledge" looks at cultural productions of all sorts, from art to scholarship.

    Combining astonishing historical breadth with a personal and accessible narrative style,The Terror of Historyis a moving testimony to the incredibly diverse ways humans have sought to cope with their frightening history.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3942-1
    Subjects: History, Religion, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xx)
  4. I The Terror of History
    (pp. 1-34)

    For more than three decades, I have taught an undergraduate course entitled, as this book partly is, “The Terror of History.” The class examines the development of mysticism, heresy, magic, and witchcraft in medieval and early modern Europe. I often have large enrollments in my classes, but none compare to the crowds that attend my lectures on these subjects. I have long thought that students flock to this particular course because of the unorthodox nature of the topics discussed, but year after year I am struck by the many students who eagerly take the class for more than its esoteric...

  5. II Religion and the World to Come
    (pp. 35-82)

    As a child and an adolescent, I attended a private Catholic school, entertained, as did many of my schoolmates, thoughts of the priesthood, and even joined a small ascetic community. Reading Loyola’sSpiritual Exercisesand the life of St. Francis, fasting every Thursday, even refusing to drink any liquids on those days in the tropical setting of my youth, I thought I had grasped some deep understanding of the world and of my own spirituality. But my religion was, after all, that of Cuba. As such, my beliefs were always undermined by the sights and sounds of my sensuous homeland...

  6. III The World of Matter and the Senses
    (pp. 83-128)

    It may be useful to invoke Boccaccio once again, as will be done also in the next chapter. Boccaccio pinpointed with extraordinary accuracy the manner in which his fellow citizens in Florence responded to the plague in 1348. In the preface to hisDecameron, as has been told in the preface to this book, he described the coming of the plague to Florence, relating in vivid detail the different ways in which the plague worked its way through Florentine society. As noted earlier, while some prayed, marched in pious processions, embraced the bizarre devotions generated by the Black Death’s carnage,...

  7. IV The Lure of Beauty and Knowledge
    (pp. 129-166)

    In his somber and oftentimes poignant novel,Eyeless in Gaza(1936), Aldous Huxley did not fail to include those mordant commentaries and brilliant asides that illuminated so many of his works. Unexpectedly, in the middle of his plot, Huxley offers the reader a biting appraisal of the scholarly life. His half-humorous, half-sad interpolation into the novel’s complex narrative does not take more than a page and a half in the printed edition of the book, but such is its intellectual impact and impeccable dissection of the issues raised here that it may well serve to launch this chapter. Glossing a...

    (pp. 167-172)

    If I concluded the previous chapter with a brief review of three nineteenth century poets, it was because poetry, bound at one and the same time by fixed rules and artifice and by the creative spirit, may also break through, by the sheer beauty and power of words, to the very heart of things. The Greeks thought of poetry as coming from the gods, an effortless and spontaneous journey into the beautiful. Poets, especially nineteenth-century poets, followed strict notions of rhyme, meter, and rhythm. Yet, as we saw in Keats, Baudelaire, and Rimbaud’s work, these poets allowed their vision to...

  9. INDEX
    (pp. 173-178)