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Updated Up To 26/06/2018
Volume 14, issue 1 (January 2016) : 33-55
Against Philosophy
Yaakov Shabtai’s Past Continuous as Therapeutic Literature
Nir Evron
Rubric A: Literature and Philosophy
Rubric B: Hebrew Literature



This essay examines the representation of philosophy in Yaakov Shabtai’s single completed novel, Past Continuous (1977). It argues that while Shabtai was evidently concerned with philosophy as an intellectual activity, and with the philosophizing intellectual as a social type, his novel — contrary to several influential interpretations — does not seek to impart a philosophical view. Rather, the novel’s close depiction of its characters’ intellectual preoccupations and obsessions is cautionary in intent: the novel does not offer an all-encompassing theory of life but warns its intellectual reader against the need to search for such a theory in the first place. The novel’s cautionary dimension affiliates it both with what Richard Rorty has described as the post-metaphysical tradition in twentieth-century thought — a mode of writing that he associates with the “therapeutic”works of Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and Dewey — and with the age-old literary genre of anti-philosophical satire, as practiced by Aristophanes, Voltaire, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf. After situating Past Continuous in these contexts, the essay proceeds to discuss the social-historical background that informed the early reception of this work and influenced the prevalent critical tendency to read it as a philosophical novel.

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