Contextual Authority and Aesthetic Truth

By James S. Hans

Subjects: Comparative Literature
Series: SUNY series in Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art, SUNY series, The Margins of Literature
Paperback : 9780791409183, 354 pages, July 1992
Hardcover : 9780791409176, 354 pages, July 1992

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Table of contents


Introduction: "What Matter Who's Speaking?"

1. Charismatic Authority

2. Behold the Man!

3. The Way of Heaven

4. The Wiles of Self-Discipline

Conclusion: Beauty and Truth


This book explores the relationship between authority and context and attempts to establish the ways in which authority is a function of a particular agent or set of agents, and the degree to which it is a product of a context rather than an agent. The work is not a sociological or psychological study but rather a literary/philosophical speculation into the roots of our conceptions of authority. It declares all authority to be aesthetic in nature and is based on an analysis of several key texts from various different cultural backgrounds: Foucault, Weber, Nietzsche, Confucius, and Homer.

James S. Hans is Professor of English at Wake Forest University. His previous books are The Fate of Desire; The Origins of the Gods; The Value(s) of Literature, all published by SUNY Press; The Play of the World; Imitation and the Image of Man; and The Question of Value: Thinking Through Nietzsche, Heidegger and Freud. He has published numerous essays on modern and contemporary American literature and contemporary literary theory and Continental philosophy.


"This is one of Hans' best works, perhaps the best to date, and it will mark a very important turn in the current critical theory/cultural criticism debate. Astonishingly, he is using Derrida and Foucault to argue for the cultural wisdom of Homer and Confucius—and making it stick. His irrefutable distinctions between the political and the aesthetic are like water in the desert. " — Frederick Turner, Founders Professor, The University of Texas at Dallas

"What I like most about this book is the intellectual range and ambition and the extraordinary daring of the author. He plunges in where others fear to tread, and the results are wonderfully illuminating. I particularly like the unusual combination of intimate knowledge of contemporary theory and a willingness to take it to task without being reactionary.

"The work is profoundly significant to all of the humanities. Given the postmodern 'disappearance of the author' where, Hans asks, does authority come from? In many ways Hans' book—like much of his work—is an attempt to define an alternative to essentialism on the one hand and relativism on the other.

"Hans does a first-rate job critiquing and summarizing current views of authority, and in the process he touches on the full range of issues that are the province of contemporary theory. I found his introduction and chapter on Homer to be filled with important insights, particularly his discussion of Foucault and of a whole array of issues in The Odyssey, including gossip, sensuality, song, feasting, wiliness, domestic yearning, violence, ritual, and envy. " — Ronald A. Sharp, John Crowe Professor of English, Kenyon College