A Scholar’s Tale: Intellectual Journey of a Displaced Child of Europe

Adam Phillips writes:

‘Being a horse of instruction rather than a tiger of wrath,’ he writes in his preface, ‘I embody very little of what Blake advises in his “Proverbs of Hell”. But I do take comfort in one axiom of his: “No bird soars too high, if he flies with his own wings.”’ Very little is not nothing. A Scholar’s Tale is about, among other things, how difficult it is to tell, when one soars, whether one is soaring with one’s own wings. Literature is a good place to think about this because language is always other people’s before it is in any sense one’s own. Hartman’s story is the story of someone who is almost uncannily self-reliant, who is strengthened by his own intellectual affinities, and not by the making of enemies; someone who is endlessly curious and confounded by what he finds himself depending on. What Hartman terms ‘the call of literature’ can sustain ‘both a verbal discipline and an imaginative hope.’

(LRB 6 March 2008)

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