cover image Dostoyevsky Reads Hegel in Siberia and Bursts into Tears

Dostoyevsky Reads Hegel in Siberia and Bursts into Tears

László F. Földényi, trans. from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet. Yale Univ., $26 (304p) ISBN 978-0-300-16749-8

In this eclectic essay collection, art theory professor Földényi (Melancholy) takes readers on an elegant but hard-going philosophical tour. His main premise is that, ever since the 18th-century Enlightenment, humans have vainly tried to dispel the “darkness” and “inscrutability” that inevitably coexist with light and reason in the human condition. In the title essay, he finds humanity both outwardly self-satisfied and inwardly anxiety-ridden. In Földényi’s worldview, the irrationality that Enlightenment thinking seeks to repel always lurks in the shadow. In an analysis of Francisco Goya’s “The sleep of reason produces monsters,” Földényi concludes that though the etching’s sleeping figure might wake “to do battle” with the monsters surrounding him, he could just as easily arise from his “troubled dreams” transformed, like Kafka’s Gregor Samsa, into a monster himself. Here, as elsewhere, Földényi shows a knack for making surprising connections between different works of art. However, though the marvelously evocative title may draw in casual literature fans, they are likely to lose interest after discovering the book is less concerned with the lives of famous writers than with Földényi’s own ruminations. This rather opaque treatise will be best appreciated by those just as well-steeped in European intellectual history as Földényi himself. (Feb.)