Inversion of Consciousness From Dante to Derrida, a Study in Intellectual History

Author: Curtler, Hugh Mercer
This book is an examination of the phenomenon the author calls “inverted consciousness”. This phenomenon is prevalent in the Western world and has arisen from a variety of sources which the author traces through primary texts. It has resulted in egocenteredness and a loss of a sense that anything other than the Self matters, engendering a spiritual malaise that has been widely recognized and discussed. The author traces the evolution of this inversion from Dante in the fourteenth century to Derrida in the twentieth century.


“The story of how we came to this pass is perhaps the most important we should know, and Hugh Mercer Curtler tells the tale in the following pages with learning, clarity, and insight…..Most important, he recognizes that a balance of reason and faith is our best hope for recovering a life that fulfills all aspects of our humanity” – (from the Commendatory Preface) Professor Bruce Thornton, California State University Fresno

“Hugh Mercer Curtler’s book addresses an inexhaustible theme: Why is it that, in the face of stunning technological achievements and heretofore unimaginable material prosperity, so many of us are depressed, anxious, and disoriented–in a word, unhappy?.... These questions have been taken up by numerous authors during the last decade, but Hugh Mercer Curtler does so here in a uniquely valuable way. This is fertile ground, and there is much to unpack in Curtler’s theses. His concentrated analysis will likely prompt readers to reflect on his arguments, asides, and apt quotations long after they have finished the book. Furthermore, Curtler’s notion of “the inversion of consciousness” is a real contribution to our understanding of the changes wrought by modernity, for those changes must finally be understood, at least in part, in psychological terms–even though, as Curtler points out, in the last century psychologists bear as much blame as any other group for aiding and abetting this detrimental inversion. Weaving through a vast swath of medieval, modern, late-modern, and postmodern literature–this is a philosopher who is perhaps most at home in the analysis of fiction–Curtler supports his thesis of an “inversion of consciousness” with reference to such a diversity of authorities that by the end one would be extremely hard-pressed to disagree with its essential soundness.” - Jeremy Beer, Editor in Chief, ISI Books

“Hugh Curtler provides a crisp and informative account of the evolution of a fundamental malaise in the modern psyche. What he calls inverted consciousness is the tendency of the human mind to turn away from the external world and become fixated upon the subject itself…. Curtler’s main concern is to show how the phenomenon of inverted consciousness came to dominate Western Civilization. In so doing, he identifies some of the major intellectual developments that contributed to its rise and shows how it is manifested in some of the major literary works of the past two centuries….Curtler is at his best in diagnosing the spiritual ailment that characterizes the modern mind as the phenomenon of inverted consciousness.” - Tomis Kapitan, Northern Illinois University

“Hugh Curtler’s [book] tells the spiritual history of Western Man from the High Middle Ages to the 21st century in a unique blend of intellectual history and literary criticism. In Curtler’s words, “It examines how our inverted consciousness focuses on the Self, leading us to forget the Other, reduce values to valuation, and denigrate the sacred.” “Inverted consciousness” is Curtler’s term for an epistemological, psychological and social pathology “whereby the subject itself becomes the principal object of human awareness,” so that modern men “have gradually but inexorably lost our interest in and concern about the world in which we live.” He traces the history of this pathology from Descartes to Derrida and then reflects on how we might escape from it…. This powerful vision deserves publication.” - E. Christian Kopff, University of Colorado, Boulder

Table of Contents

1. Dante’s Medieval World
2. The Growth of Modernism
3. The Romantic Revolt
4. Post-Modernism: The Second Wave of Romanticism
5. In Pursuit of Balance