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The back cover copy of my edition draws appropriate comparisons to Swift, Sterne, Melville, and Joyce; it also calls the novel "enigmatic. The answer is its metafictional form.


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Thus, the text we read is, within the novel's fiction, a necessarily arbitrary assemblage of the philosopher's writings by a sometimes hostile or mocking editor. Perhaps a modern analogue would be less Ulysses than Pale Fire. Note, then, at least four layers of irony defined simply as double-meaning in Carlyle's novel: 1. This makes for a dizzying and dazzling readerly experience, and should remind us that so-called postmodernism was just a further, and often less sophisticated, pursuit of Romantic irony. Given all this abyssal irony, can the reader find any stable ground in this novel?

I think so, at least in part. While I am not one for biographical interpretations, neither am I dogmatic on the subject, and there is no point ignoring Carlyle's well-known apprenticeship to German Romanticism and attempt to popularize it in England. The editor, then, stands for the crudity of the English imagination, its inability to think beyond the merely existent because of its thrall to nihilistic anti-metaphysics such as utilitarianism, empiricism, and capitalism.

The English type the Scot Carlyle sends up here remains very much with us: think of Richard Dawkins, John Carey, Ian McEwan, and that whole ilk of aging intellectuals who scorn so much that is beyond their own insular tradition; and have George Steiner and Gabriel Josipovici not operated as latter-day Carlyles, if only as the Continental opponents of such island-thinking? And the editor's comments on it, if occasionally refreshing in their common sense, seem mean-minded and cheap. Another joke at the expense of the stupid English bourgeois?

Sartor Resartus, First Edition

Is it really so easy to separate idealism from contempt for the material? Are we sure we can tell the difference between revolution and reaction, between Jacobinism and fascism? For the empirical English imagination in this book may function as a corrective, something like Sancho Panza in relation to Don Quixote, a real ground-level view of things as opposed to the intellectual's assumed stance of revolutionism.

The purpose of irony, it seems to me, is to allow us both perspectives at once—the tower and the ground, Sancho and Quixote—so that we have as much knowledge as possible in our attempts to fashion the future. Such irony is the essence of literature , of the novel, of the essay, and I suspect this is why Carlyle mocks the philosophical treatise, which aims at an intellectual closure that irony forbids and fiction—with its multiple perspectives—formally disallows.

This is no doubt also why the older Carlyle threw over fiction for more closed forms; I would be lying if I denied that I too sometimes tire of these defenses of literature as that which allows us no conclusions. The proper conclusion, if we can come to one, is that whatever else we are or may be, including God-born, we are also devil's shit—and don't you forget it.

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That is the pedagogy of the essay, of the novel, of irony, of literature. I have committed a great sin here, a lapse I hypocritically would not tolerate in undergraduate writing, by not quoting from the novel! But it is so complex I thought it best approached at first with a telescope rather than a microscope.

In any case, the whole thing can be read at Project Gutenberg , and I recommend dipping in to see if its intensities—which move in very long rhythms and so do not lend themselves to brief quotation—suit you. I spent my time in graduate school trying to understand the Marxist theory of the novel, which entailed a lot of mostly unsuccessful attempts to grasp the German Romantic philosophy that underlies Western Marxism and also a lot of worry over the potentially totalitarian nature of this intellectual tradition.

For this reason, I very much appreciated Carlyle's intentional burlesque of this philosophy's more rarefied aspects, and his perhaps unintentional warning—a warning that seems to be embodied in his later career—of where it all may lead, of what trouble you may find yourself in, and not only intellectually, if you do not use the shears of irony to tailor your idealism to the human figure's so-far intransigent actual shape. View all my reviews Nov 14, Alan rated it really liked it.

Read some of this as a freshman at Amherst College, back when it was a great college with my Humanities section prof Rolfe Humphries, the great translator. Revisited the house in the 's. Jun 01, adam rated it it was amazing. The problem for the editor, however, is that he can not simply translate the work and present it to a British audience, as he believes that in order to transplant the work into foreign soil, it is necessary to present the man as well as his work.

Thus, the editor must not only present Teufelsdrockh's ideas, but an account of life; however, this project itself is compromised when an associate of Teufelsdrockh's offers to send the editor his autobiographical writings but instead he receives "Six considerable Paper-Bags This book is not only funny, but philosophically engaging, as Teufelsdrockh's writings and the editor's challenges engage with problems explored by the German Enlightenment as well as Utilitarianism and other contemporary thought. Sartor Resartus is not for the faint of heart, but it is certainly as rewarding as it is challenging; a truly important work of the 19c, it is an unique and outstanding piece of creative prose in line with Swift, Sterne and Fielding.

Finally, I think it provides what will be my epithet which Teufelsdrockh's was asked to compose for a Count: "Here lies Who during his sublunary existence destroyed with lead five thousand partridges and openly turned into dung, through himself and his servants, quadrupeds and bipeds, not without tumult in the process, ten thousand million pounds of assorted food.


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  • He now rests from labour, his works following himn. If you seek his monument, look at the dung-heap. He mad his first kill on earth [date]; his last [date]. View all 5 comments. Looked into this the other day, and wow. Carlyle is easy to loathe. But I'd forgotten how good this is. View all 3 comments. Although it was pretty funny at times, "Sartor Resartus" mainly just made me zone out and forget what was happening every other 5 pages or so.

    The book sort of reads like a conversation you have with a drunk girl, while waiting in line for the bathroom at a party: it starts of with some hot takes on today's society, continues on with the entire life story of the drunk girl or German philosopher, I guess , and ends with just a whole bunch of philosophical ideas that don't quite make sense.

    It's Although it was pretty funny at times, "Sartor Resartus" mainly just made me zone out and forget what was happening every other 5 pages or so. It's not exactly unenjoyable, but it's not the highlight of your night. That sure was a book. It made me laugh occasionally, which is good, but it overall just confused me. Jul 26, Marcus rated it it was amazing Recommends it for: sansculottes, reactionaries, tailors, women, dandies, bureaucrats. Shelves: read-again , canon.

    We're told that this is the English translation from the original German. But, this is much more than a translation. The translator feels that in order to make the book more accessible to his English audience, he should include copious commentary and background. In the end, not only do we get the the translation of the original along with the Sartor Resartus, which means "The Tailor Re-tailored" is ostensibly a book on "The Philosophy of Clothing" by a German author, Herr Diogenes Teufelsdrockh.

    In the end, not only do we get the the translation of the original along with the editor's commentary but we also get a biography of Teufelsdrockh assembled from the strange and seemingly random contents of six sealed paper bags which the editor has come into possession of, and which he plans to deposit later at the British Museum. This is all great, except that Teufelsdrockh is fictional along with the German version of the book and the six paper bags.

    So it's a fictional translation by a fictional editor of a fictional book that turns out to actually be a rather hilarious semi-autobiograhical portrayal of Carlyle and his thoughts. At times it's parody of Hegel, at other times it's religious and existential musings then later it's political and philosophical commentary. All that alone would be enough, but couple it with Carlyle's brobdingagian big vocabulary, his dream-like writing style and now obscure references to historical and contemporary for him events and you get a fascinating book that is unique in many ways.

    I thought it was funny, insightful and memorable.

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    I loved the writing style, and though it took me several months to read it, it was worth the effort. You can find it for free on Google Books, Gutenberg etc. Here are a couple of existential quotations from the book: Are we not Spirits, that are shaped into a body, into an Appearance; and that fade away again into air and Invisibility? This is no metaphor, it is a simple scientific fact: we start out of Nothingness, take figure, and are Apparitions; round us, as round the veriest spectre, is Eternity; and to Eternity minutes are as years and aeons.

    Come there not tones of Love and Faith, as from celestial harp-strings, like the Song of beatified Souls?


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    • And again, do not we squeak and gibber in our discordant, screech-owlish debatings and recriminatings ; and glide bodeful, and feeble, and fearful; or uproar poltern , and revel in our mad Dance of the Dead,—till the scent of the morning air summons us to our still Home; and dreamy Night becomes awake and Day?

      Motivational: 'So bandaged, and hampered, and hemmed in,' groaned he, 'with thousand requisitions, obligations, straps, tatters, and tagrags, I can neither see nor move: not my own am I, but the World's; and Time flies fast, and Heaven is high, and Hell is deep: Man! Why not; what binds me here?

      Want, want! Do stuff! A certain inarticulate Self-consciousness dwells dimly in us; which only our Works can render articulate and decisively discernible. Our Works are the mirror wherein the spirit first sees its natural lineaments.

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      Hence, too, the folly of that impossible Precept, Know thyself; till it be translated into this partially possible one, Know what thou canst work at. Aug 28, Sarah rated it did not like it.

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      Absolutely dreadful, incomprehensible book that was the turning point in my master's degree. I decided not to do a ph. D after trying to read this dreck. I wanted a plot, dialogue, and real characters with a happy ending.

      Sartor Resartus - Wikipedia

      The day I threw that book against the wall was the first day of the rest of my life : A bit dramatic, but actually what really happened. Nov 10, kasia rated it really liked it. One of the strangest books I've ever read. Utterly delirious and totally wonderful. It probably deserves 5 stars, but I'm giving it four because, well, it's awfully hard.

      This is probably not fair of me. It requires serious concentration on the reader's part, and even then, it's so bizarre and outlandish that you feel like you're barely skimming the surface of it. A truly remarkable book. Mar 10, Sam rated it really liked it Shelves: actual-books. Carlyle seemed to be a fairly clever guy, anticipating a lot of modern literature trends and possibly even the trajectory of modern society.

      A meta-book accounting a fictional editor's attempts to account a fictional philosopher's meandering philosophy of clothes, itself steeped in German Idealism which is poked fun at frequently. This before you discover that Teufelsdrock's philosophy is only about clothes in a circumspect way, and instead about the world or things in general, maybe more app Carlyle seemed to be a fairly clever guy, anticipating a lot of modern literature trends and possibly even the trajectory of modern society.