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Don Herzog
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Want to be cunning? You might wish you were more clever, more flexible, able to cut a few corners without getting caught, to dive now and again into iniquity and surface clutching a prize. You might want to roll your eyes at those slaves of duty who play by the rules. Or you might think there's something sleazy about that stance, even if it does seem to pay off. Does that make you a chump?

    With pointedly mischievous prose, Don Herzog explores what's alluring and what's revolting in cunning. He draws on a colorful range of sources: tales of Odysseus; texts from Machiavelli; pamphlets from early modern England; salesmen's newsletters; Christian apologetics; plays; sermons; philosophical treatises; detective novels; famous, infamous, and obscure historical cases; and more.

    The book is in three parts, bookended by two murderous churchmen. "Dilemmas" explores some canonical moments of cunning and introduces the distinction between knaves and fools as a "time-honored but radically deficient scheme." "Appearances" assails conventional approaches to unmasking. Surveying ignorance and self-deception, "Despair?" deepens the case that we ought to be cunning--and then sees what we might say in response.

    Throughout this beguiling book, Herzog refines our sense of what's troubling in this terrain. He shows that rationality, social roles, and morality are tangled together--and trickier than we thought.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2706-0
    Subjects: Philosophy, Sociology

Table of Contents

    (pp. 1-12)

    “I do not marvel in any ways to see such a multitude of people assembled . . . to behold the unfortunate tragedy of this my wretched life. For the case is rare. . . .”¹ He loved his wife, insisted John Kello at the scaffold. He denied that he’d dabbled in magic. But “the wicked spirit” had urged him to kill his wife to advance his career. (He never explains how she was an obstacle.Was she just set against his promotion? or having to move to some wretched small town? Then, you’d think, they’d talk about it or endure...

    (pp. 13-68)

    Odysseus has a problem. Actually, Odysseus has many problems. The Trojan War is over—he and his fellow Achaians are splendidly victorious—but he is facing an arduous trip home: ten years of sailing from one dangerous adventure to another, with not just his biceps but his considerable wits to guide him. Odysseus is almost the incarnation ofmêtis, the ancient Greek word we translate ascunning.¹ He is, Homer tells us,polutropos, many-sided.² Rehearsing the history of the Trojan War for Odysseus’s son Telemachus, wise old Nestor underlines the point: “no one there could hope to rival Odysseus, /...

    (pp. 69-122)

    Etymology can be suggestive: the Englishcunningreveals knotty ties to knowledge.Cunningstems from a root ofcan, an irregular verb meaningto know. Indeed,cunningmeansknowledgefor centuries before it gains its associations with sly deceit or artifice, which it has by the late 1500s. In the first edition of 1755 and still in the fourth edition of 1773, Samuel Johnson’sDictionarydefines the adjectivecunningas “Skilful; knowing; well instructed; learned” before turning to “Artfully deceitful; sly; designing; trickish; full of fetches and stratagems; subtle; crafty; subdolous.” (But in both editions, Johnson’s definition of the noun...

    (pp. 123-184)

    The late music of Morton Feldman might be described as nothing but harmony. Sometimes the rhythms are notated but impossibly complex. In some chamber pieces Feldman allows the different players to play at their own rates, leaving to chance how their lines coalesce. To the listener the music floats, elongates, contracts; no cranky music teacher with a thudding metronome or baton could pound it into a refractory student. “I am not a clockmaker,” sniffed the composer.¹ Feldman stacks up dissonances, even five half-steps in a row, sometimes arpeggiating them over different octaves, sometimes bunching them together. Somehow—it is one...

    (pp. 185-192)

    Another century, another country, another murderous churchman.¹

    The victim: Master James, “a man well-reckoned in the general report of all” and a minister in Norfolk. James held two benefices or livings: that is, he had the income from two parishes but also the responsibility for running them. (In these years, the practice of treating benefices as property to be bought, sold, assigned by local aristocrats, and the like was an everyday scandal.) Getting older and tired, he hired a curate to handle the responsibilities of one parish.

    The villain: Master Lowe, the very curate in question, whose salary was supplemented...