The Cudgel and the Caress

Reflections on Cruelty and Tenderness

By David Farrell Krell

Subjects: Continental Philosophy, German Studies, Phenomenology, Ancient Greek Philosophy, Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy
Hardcover : 9781438472973, 340 pages, March 2019
Paperback : 9781438472980, 340 pages, January 2020

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

Key to the Principal Sources Cited

Part I. Tenderness (Zärtlichkeit)

1. Tenderness and Tragedy

2. Homer’s Iliad, Holderlin’s Briseiad

3. Tender Antigone—Forever Younger

4. Tender Schlegel, Irascible Hegel

5. Pulling Strings Wins No Wisdom

6. A Woman Without Qualities?

Part II. Cruelty (Grausamkeit)
7. Caress of Gestation, Cudgel of Birth

8. The Nervous System of a Specter

9. Freedom, Imputability, Cruelty

10. Cruelty, Power, Art, Tenderness


Offers philosophical and psychological reflections on cruelty and tenderness.


The Cudgel and the Caress explores the enduring significance of tenderness and cruelty in a range of works across philosophy, psychoanalysis, and literature. Divided into two parts, the book initially focuses on tenderness, with David Farrell Krell delivering original readings of Homer's Iliad, Sophocles's Antigone, and writings by Hölderlin, Hegel, Freud, and Derrida that deal with the importance of tenderness and the tragic consequences of its absence. Part One concludes with an extended reading of Robert Musil's Man Without Qualities, in which Krell analyzes the tender relationship between Ulrich and Agathe. In Part Two, Krell begins by examining Otto Rank's Birth Trauma, which reflects on the tenderness of gestation in the womb and the cruel necessity of birth. He then turns to an examination of cruelty in general, focusing on Derrida's challenge to contemporary psychoanalysis, his opposition between Kant and Nietzsche, and his analysis (and indictment) of the death penalty. Groundbreaking and insightful, the book provides a rare philosophical treatment of subjects vital to the world we live in.

David Farrell Krell is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at DePaul University and Brauer Distinguished Visiting Professor of German Studies at Brown University.


"This book offers nuanced readings from a range of texts important to the continental philosophical tradition. David Farrell Krell is an established and brilliant voice in the field, and the individual chapters reflect a lifetime of reflection, a history of successive interpretations, and a philosophical depth and humanity that are difficult to find today." — Julia Ireland, cotranslator of Martin Heidegger's Hölderlin's Hymn "Remembrance"