Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography
Forbidden Knowledge From Prometheus to Pornography Author:Roger Shattuck An intellectual tour-de-force, Forbidden Knowledge is a study of the ethics of literary and scientific inquiry. Shattuck first approaches his subject indirectly, conducting an engaging tour of Western literature: Adam and Eve, Prometheus, Milton's Paradise Lost, Goethe's Faust, and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. He then uses t... more »hese tales to address the moral questions raised by mankind's tendency to search for dangerous knowledge. He contrasts J. Robert Oppenheimer's acceptance of guilt for the atomic bombings with Edward Teller's dismissal of the same. In his own field of literary criticism he argues against the neutral analysis of immoral works as "pure literature," illustrating his point with a critique of the Marquis de Sade.
Forbidden Knowledge is a stimulating and forceful intellectual argument against moral relativism, as well as a practical approach to difficult ethical problems, from genetic engineering to pornography. From Publishers Weekly: In this scholarly, provocative and gracefully written study, Shattuck -- a distinguished critic (The Banquet Years) and translator (of Apollinaire) -- argues that there are moral taboos (even if they are sometimes unclearly defined) that we dare violate at our peril, that there are indeed limits -- both philosophical and physical -- to what humankind is meant to know and experience and that from the very beginnings of civilization, a central theme in our thought and literature has been the struggle to understand what those limits are.
The book begins in theory and moves to more concrete examples of "forbidden knowledge," from discussions of myths (Prometheus, Orpheus, Adam and Eve), through the Victorians' perplexity over Darwin, to an examination of works of literature (Faust, Paradise Lost, Billy Budd, Frankenstein, Emily Dickinson's poetry, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Stranger) that indicate a fascination or concern with those limits.
The second half of this study focuses on what Shattuck calls case histories of what can happen when those limits are pushed and include discussions of the Manhattan Project, DNA research, genetic engineering, serial killers (Ted Bundy; the so-called Moors Murderer) and finally -- and at great length -- the Marquis de Sade. The book might seem but a thoughtful warning about the destructive power of de Sade and what Shattuck considers sadistic pornography, but a concluding essay makes it clear that his subject is really the history of human curiosity and of the glories and dangers inherent in trying to learn more than one is prepared for.« less
An exploration of the meaning of moral responsibility in literature and daily life. In Shattuck's view the tragic destiny of Western culture has been to gradually erode all sacredness in a continued transgression of all limits. In the quest for knowledge and ever more rarified experience, the link between boundaries and the moral life has been broken. Shattuck hopes that we can yet recover our innocence by reexamining the greatest myths and stories of our tradition.