Hölderlin’s Madness

Chronicle of a Dwelling Life, 1806–1843
Translated by Alta L. Price
₹699.00 $25 £18.99

One of Europe’s greatest living philosophers, Giorgio Agamben, analyzes the life and work of one of Europe’s greatest poets, Friedrich Hölderlin.

‘Agamben’s main focus is the question of what it is to live. According to Agamben, Hölderlin experienced the latter part of his life as a chronology of events, and a chronology is not prone to biography. Agamben’s main project is to uncover the political implications for the difference between the chronological life and the biographical life. This book is both creative and profound.’—Recommended by Choice

The last 36 years of Hölderlin’s life, spent in the carpenter Zimmer’s tower in Tübingen in presumably incurable madness and largely isolated from the outside world, have lost little of their fascination for scholarly speculation. If a philosopher of Agamben’s status engages with this enigmatic life, one should not expect any traditional answers. And indeed, this may be one of the more unusual publications on Hölderlin in recent years. It is neither, strictly speaking, a volume of philological scholarship nor a historical-critical biography; it is not even a purely philosophical inquiry, although it contains aspects of all these genres. —Rolf J. Goebel, University of Alabama in Huntsville


What does it mean to inhabit a place or a self? What is a habit? And, for human beings, doesn’t living mean—first and foremost—inhabiting? Pairing a detailed chronology of German poet Friedrich Hölderlin’s years of purported madness with a new examination of texts often considered unreadable, Giorgio Agamben’s new book aims to describe and comprehend a life that the poet himself called habitual and inhabited.

Hölderlin’s life was split neatly in two: his first 36 years, from 1770 to 1806; and the 36 years from 1807 to 1843, which he spent as a madman holed up in the home of Ernst Zimmer, a carpenter. The poet lived the first half of his existence out and about in the broader world, relatively engaged with current events, only to then spend the second half entirely cut off from the outside world. Despite occasional visitors, it was as if a wall separated him from all external events and relationships. For reasons that may well eventually become clear, Hölderlin chose to expunge all character—historical, social, or otherwise—from the actions and gestures of his daily life. According to his earliest biographer, he often stubbornly repeated, ‘nothing happens to me’. Such a life can only be the subject of a chronology—not a biography, much less a clinical or psychological analysis. Nevertheless, this book suggests that this is precisely how Hölderlin offers humanity an entirely other notion of what it means to live. Although we have yet to grasp the political significance of his unprecedented way of life, it now clearly speaks directly to our own.

ISBN: 9781803091150
Publication Year: March 2023
Rights: UCP
Pages: 280
Size: 5.5" x 7.75"
Format: Hardback
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