As it is often the case with Calasso's writing, i am not sure what
(see "The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony" and
"The Ruin of Kasch" is. It frequently feels delirious. I know what it is not:
a rational, scientific, objective, comprehensive study of something.
I guess some readers might be excited when reading someone write about
Hinduism, Nietzsche, Kant and Godel in the same chapter,
but to me the rambling simply goes nowhere.
The book begins (for unknown reasons) with
a priest who betrayed the Church during the French Revolution
(co-writing the "Declaration of the Rights of Man" and
becoming its foreign minister) and then betrayed the Revolution to engineer
Napoleon's coup (becoming grand chamberlain of his empire), and then
betrayed Napoleon (advising the tzar against him Restoration in Erfurt,
selling state secrets to Austria,
helping restore Louis XVIII Bourbon to the throne),
and then worked at the Congress of Vienna to minimize the punishment against
France (indirectly boosting Prussia's power in Europe).
Calasso also credits him with introducing in London in 1834
"the government of the bourgeoisie, in which members of the middle class
appeared in power under their declared names" and i have no idea what he
is referring to (Talleyrand was the French ambassador in Britain but nothing
Talleyrand was hated by just about everybody but was also one of the most
successful diplomats of his time.
Calasso thinks that
Talleyrand, at the Congress of Vienna, invented a new way to understand and implement the law, according
to which the law is merely a dressing for the status quo, giving a new meaning
to the word "legitimacy".
Calasso tries to make an analogy with the difference between
digital and analog computers that i did not understand.
He briefly mentions LaFayette as the opposite of Talleyrand, then it gets
delirious and i literally don't know what Calasso is mumbling about.
Every now and then we get a great quote such as
"Education is paradoxical in that it is largely composed of things that cannot be learned".
Calasso then retells "The legend of the destruction of Kash", a fairy tale collected by the archeologists Leo Frobenius in 1912 in his book "Atlantis". Calasso interprets it as the birth of a new order, a revolt against sacrifice. At this point the book becomes a lengthy essays on the meaning of sacrifice in human civilization.
He views two traditions in Western philosophy, one that runs through Hegel, Schopenhauer Kierkegaard, Nietzsche in which sacrifice predominates, and ona starting with Kant in which sacrifice is missing. A little later he lumps together Locke, Hume and Kant as removing the self from philosophy, and he points out that modern science avenged the self by introducing self-reference (the observer, uncertainty, etc), i.e. the original viewpoint of the Upanishads.
Calasso mentions some of his favorites: Rene Girard, the anthropologist and literary historian who wrote "Deceit, Desire and the Novel" (1961) focusing on the mimetic character of desire; Louis Dumont, the anthropologist and specialist on India who published the article "Ethnology and Ethnography" (1959), which somehow Calasso reinterprets as showing a way that leads from the Vedas to our technological world; and Max Stirner, the philosopher who wrote "The Ego and Its Own" (1845), of which for mysterious reason only the German title is given here (and abbreviated to "Der Einzige"), the progenitor of both Marxism and anarchism.
Then we get some random notes on
Freud, Levi-Strauss and Marx (and i believe all of these people would wildly
disagree with Calasso's interpretation of their thought) with the apparent
intent of clarifying the importance of sacrifice in the history of civilization.