But the true catastrophe (and here we come to the second proposition of Calasso’s Something Big) occurred in the eighteenth century. Calasso puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of Enlightenment philosophers who sought to banish the luminous world of the gods and replace it with science and technology. But any attempt to banish the gods ‑ or, less poetically, to fail to recognise that the irrational side of human consciousness needs outlets ‑ necessarily diminishes what it means to be human. Fortunately, and here we come to the third and final proposition of Calasso’s Something Big, a group of modern writers (among them Nietzsche, Baudelaire, and Kafka) sacrificed their lives in order to create “absolute literature”. It is absolute for two reasons. First, it serves as a means to regain access to that zone of secret knowledge or consciousness ‑ the absolute of pure Being ‑ that has disappeared from the soulless wasteland of rational modernity. Second, this literature is self-contained, devoid of aspirations to societal usefulness or functionality.
more from Michael McDonald at the Dublin Review of Books here.