The Guardian on Nobility of Spirit

Nietzsche pokes his nose in here, too, as you might imagine, though not to be greeted with praise; Riemen’s “nobility of spirit” finds its exemplars instead in Socrates or Spinoza. Indeed, it seems to be rather close to Bauman’s treating-art-as-life, though it is hard to say exactly; Riemen does warn us that we shouldn’t expect to find “nobility of spirit” in the media, politics, academia, or churches, which at least narrows it down a bit.

He takes the phrase itself from the title of a 1945 collection of essays by Thomas Mann; in an elegant sketch, Riemen devotes a third of his slim volume to this writer and his works. There follows an essay on what happens when intellectuals get power, which culminates in the author castigating certain reactions to 9/11 and insisting on his right to call Osama bin Laden an “evil genius”.

Lastly, he adopts a curious fictional method, reimagining the trial of Socrates, and also the torturing to death in Italy of the writer Leone Ginzburg, who endures a bout of Dostoevskian speechifying by a fascist priest in his cell: a daring gambit, to be sure. It’s a strange, elusive little book, admirable in its avoidance of publishing formula.
Steven Poole
1 August 2008