The End of Meaning: Studies in Catastrophe

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9781443839150: The End of Meaning: Studies in Catastrophe

The specter of the apocalypse has always been a semiotic fantasy: only at the end of all things will their true meaning be revealed. Our long romance with catastrophe is inseparable from the Western hermeneutical tradition: our search for an elusive truth, one that can only be uncovered through the interminable work of interpretation. Catastrophe terrifies and tantalizes to the extent it promises an end to this task. 9/11 is this book s beginning, but not its end. Here, it seemed, was the apocalypse America had long been waiting for; until it became just another event. And, indeed, the real lesson of 9/11 may be that catastrophe is the purest form of the event.

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About the Author:

Matthew Gumpert is an Associate Professor in the Department of Western Languages and Literatures at Bo aziçi University. He is the author of Grafting Helen: The Abduction of the Classical Past (University of Wisconsin Press, 2001). Recent work includes articles in French Forum, Contemporary Theatre Review, and Film International.


"The End of Meaning is a brilliant, disturbing, and important book in which Matthew Gumpert dares to deprive us of one of Western culture's most cherished (and soothing) pieties: that catastrophe is a rare disruption, something to absorb and assimilate. Gumpert demonstrates that, in fact, the opposite is the case. In powerful, often witty prose, he convinces us that the catastrophic is a commonplace. A classics scholar widely trained in philosophy, psychoanalysis, and literary theory, Gumpert is also completely at home in the realm of popular and mass culture. He reads Sophocles and Kant comfortably alongside the six o'clock news and the shopping mall. The result is a wide-ranging, erudite and potentially transformative rethinking of much of contemporary life and our lamentable political paralysis." - Rhonda Garelick, Professor of English and Performing Arts and Director of the Interdisciplinary Arts Symposium, University of Nebraska-Lincoln "Masterful and erudite, The End of Meaning is a fascinating exploration of the Western concept of catastrophe from Aristotle and Genesis to contemporary American popular culture and political rhetoric. Taking 9/11 as his starting point, Gumpert unravels a central paradox: that the unprecedented nature of catastrophe is always already scripted by preceding cultural narratives; that the sense of apocalyptic rupture repeats itself within historical time. With theoretical acumen, he analyzes a rich philosophical tradition to better help us understand our own moment in history." - Amy Kaplan, Edward W. Kane Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania

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