The Fate of Ideas

Seductions, Betrayals, Appraisals

Robert Boyers

Columbia University Press

The Fate of Ideas

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Pub Date: December 2017

ISBN: 9780231173810

280 Pages

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Pub Date: September 2015

ISBN: 9780231173803

280 Pages

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Pub Date: September 2015

ISBN: 9780231539890

280 Pages

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The Fate of Ideas

Seductions, Betrayals, Appraisals

Robert Boyers

Columbia University Press

As editor of the quarterly Salmagundi for the past fifty years, Robert Boyers has been on the cutting edge of developments in politics, culture, and the arts. Reflecting on his collaborations and quarrels with some of the twentieth century's most transformative writers, artists, and thinkers, Boyers writes a wholly original intellectual memoir that rigorously confronts selected aspects of contemporary society.

Organizing his chapters around specific ideas, Boyers anatomizes the process by which they fall in and out of fashion and often confuse those who most ardently embrace them. In provocative encounters with authority, fidelity, "the other," pleasure, and a wide range of other topics, Boyers tells colorful stories about his own life and, in the process, studies the fate of ideas in a society committed to change and ill equipped to assess the losses entailed in modernity. Among the writers who appear in these pages are Susan Sontag and V. S. Naipaul, Jamaica Kincaid and J. M. Coetzee, as well as figures drawn from all walks of life, including unfaithful husbands, psychoanalysts, terrorists, and besotted beauty lovers.
The Fate of Ideas is a brilliant, highly original, and delightful book that achieves a unique balance between criticism and personal essay, revealing the author himself as both a decisive thinker and an appealingly flawed, divided human being. Looking at a wide range of ideas by peeling away attendant presuppositions and contradictions, Robert Boyers argues with friends, intellectual heroes, and respected elders while examining his own prejudices. Throughout we find ourselves in the company of a first-rate mind alert to changes in intellectual fashion and the quickness with which politically or aesthetically 'correct' assumptions harden into received ideas. Phillip Lopate, director (nonfiction) of the Writing Program, Columbia University School of the Arts, and author of Getting Personal: Selected Essays
In a dance that is both demanding and exhilarating, Robert Boyers engages thinkers and ideas, insisting there are things worth arguing about that are larger and grander than the standard scholarly or academic discourse can get at. An elegant and courageous book. Mary Gordon, Mcintosh Professor, Barnard College, author of The Company of Women
This book is a combination of memoir and cultural criticism, though all of the chapters shed light on the protean character of the author, a prominent cultural critic and—perhaps above all—the founder and longtime editor of the quarterly Salmagundi. Whatever form they take—some chapters are deeply personal, others are largely polemical—all are thought experiments, essays often ironic and self-deprecating, Emersonian in the sense that Robert Boyers is unabashed in his 'appetite for masters and masterpieces' that can become 'a constitutive aspect of my very being.' A superb and singular work. James Miller, director of liberal studies, graduate faculty, New School for Social Research, author of The Passion of Michel Foucault
An attractive, original, subtle, and heartening book that combines the methods of the moral and personal essay with informal literary and cultural criticism. Richard Locke, Columbia University, author of Critical Children: The Use of Childhood in Ten Great Novels
The 12 literary essays collected in this volume are bottomless wells of provocation and insight. . . . Readers who crave rich food for thought will find much to savor in this volume. Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Boyers's intellectual rigor and literary acuity showcase the life's work of an individual deeply committed to the liberal arts. A timely collection. . . . Essential. Choice
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. Authority
2. Pleasure
3. Reading from the Life
4. Fidelity
5. Saving Beauty
6. My "Others"
7. Politics and the Novel
8. Realism
9. The Sublime
10. Psychoanalysis
11. Modernism
12. Judgment
Bibliography
Index

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About the Author

Robert Boyers is professor of English at Skidmore College and founder and editor of the quarterly Salmagundi. He is also director of The New York State Summer Writers Institute. His many books include The Dictator's Dictation: The Politics of Novels and Novelists and a volume of short stories entitled Excitable Women, Damaged Men. His essays have appeared in Harper's, the New Republic, the Nation, Granta, the Yale Review, and many other magazines.