Thursday, January 22, 2015

Herzog : Book Review

Right off the bat, let me just say that I loved this book. I thought it was fabulous.

At a very basic plot level, Herzog is about a professor (of philosophy? - he works on Romanticism) named Moses Herzog whose wife has cheated on him and left him. 

It starts out :
     "If I am out of my mind, it's all right with me, thought Moses Herzog.
      Some people thought he was cracked and for a time he himself had doubted that he was all there. But now, though he still behaved oddly, he felt confident, cheerful, clairvoyant, and strong. He had fallen under a spell and was writing letters to everyone under the sun."

It was never clear to me whether or not he really was going crazy, or if other people thought so, or if other people were trying to manipulate him and perhaps try to drive him crazy.

Anyway... whichever way you look at it, this is a very academic book. Herzog writes a ton of letters, some just in his head, to all sorts of people, but a lot of philosophers:
"Dear Doktor Professor Heidegger, I should like to know what you mean by the expression 'the fall into the quotidian.' When did this fall occur? Where were we standing when it happened?"

So many philosophers mentioned. Dewey and Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. There are quite a few sections in the book where he writes letters and I have only a dim understanding of what he's talking about. Basically, you either need to be like me, where you are fine with that, with not understanding every sentence, or you need to be much more well read and/or intelligent than I am.

So sometimes there's stuff I don't understand. But then there's something like this:

“I fall upon the thorns of life, I bleed. And then? I fall upon the thorns of life, I bleed. And what next? I get laid, I take a short holiday, but very soon after I fall upon those same thorns with gratification in pain, or suffering in joy - who knows what the mixture is! What good, what lasting good is there in me? Is there nothing else between birth and death but what I can get out of this perversity - only a favorable balance of disorderly emotions? No freedom? Only impulses? And what about all the good I have in my heart - does it mean anything? Is it simply a joke? A false hope that makes a man feel the illusion of worth? And so he goes on with his struggles. But this good is no phony. I know it isn't. I swear it.”

It's such a combination of humor and pathos, the yearning to be a good person, to do good things, to have a good life, to shake off the depression that is dogging you. It's this kind of thing that made me love this book.

I read it this fall and haven't posted about it 'til now, but it's the kind of book you just want to talk about when you're finished. So if you end up reading it, send me a letter! I'd love to hear what you think.

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