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Norman O. Brown


Norman Oliver Brown (1913 2002) was an American scholar, born in El Oro, Mexico. His father was an Irish mining engineer, and his mother a Cuban. He was educated at Eton, Oxford (BA, MA, Classics; his tutor was Isaiah Berlin), and the University of Wisconsin (PhD, Classics). During the Second World War, he worked for the OSS. After the war, he took a position as Professor of Classics at Wesleyan University. His initial work in classics betrayed a Marxist bent (his commentary to Hesiod's Theogony and his first monograph, Hermes the Thief). Following his disenchantment with real politics in the wake of the 1948 presidential election, he turned to a deep study of the works of Freud, described in his book Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytic Meaning of History. A synthesis of Freudian and Marxist thinking, with Nietzsche thrown into the mix, can be identified as the origin of his Love's Body, a book which adapted an unorthodox and creative writing style, approaching a language that was as much poetry as prose. In the late 1960's, following a brief stay at the University of Rochester, he moved on to the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he was named Distinguished Professor of Humanities.

Brown was a highly popular professor at Santa Cruz, known to both friends and students as "Nobby". The range of his interests and studies broadened to include James Joyce (Brown's Closing Time is a brief study of Finnegans Wake), re-encounters with classical poetry and mythology, including scholarly-poetic responses to Propertius, and to Ovid's Metamorphoses, an engagement with American modernist poetry (especially Robert Duncan and Louis Zukofsky) and a deep study of Islam. Many of his later writings were collected in the anthology Apocalypse and/or Metamorphosis. From his Wesleyan years, Brown had a friendship with John Cage that was fruitful to both the scholar and the composer. Brown died in Santa Cruz in 2002. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_O._Brown [Oct 2005]

Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959)- Norman O. Brown

  • Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959)- Norman O. Brown [Amazon.com]
    This is not really a review - time is lacking. Just a strong recommendation. If the question "What is the human animal?" is on your mind, read this book! In my opinion, Life Against Death ranks among the most important modern contributions toward an understanding of the human condition. It is on the same short list as Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents and Camus' Myth of Sisyphus. Like these works and indeed the subject, it is not an easy read. I am ordering a fresh copy and looking forward to the introduction by Christopher Lasch which I have not read. I also recommend Norman O. Brown's other works - in particular, Love's Body and the collection of essays, Apocalypse And/or Metamorphosis. I first read Brown in the 1960s and revisit him often. There are those who dismiss Brown as a 1960s enfant terrible (Life was in fact written in the 1950s) but listen to them not! -- Bill Carter for amazon.com

    Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytic Meaning of History is a work of literary theory published in 1959 by Norman O. Brown. Its theoretical basis is a synthesis of Freudian, Nietzschean and Marxist thinking. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_Against_Death:_The_Psychoanalytic_Meaning_of_History [Oct 2005]

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