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Kantorowicz

Stories of a Historian

Alain Boureau
translated by Stephen G. Nichols and Gabrielle M. Spiegel, foreword by Martin Jay

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Ernst Kantorowicz was a complex figure whose long incident-filled life seemed to embody many of the contradictions of the twentieth century. A Jew from a disputed area between Germany and Poland who fought on the German side in World War I, he first achieved academic success with Frederick II (1927), a work whose language, in Gabrielle Spiegel's words, "often came perilously close to that of the Nazi party" in its desire to see a reconstituted German nation once again dominant on the world stage. Forced to emigrate when the Nazis came to power, Kantorowicz later became embroiled in controversy...

Ernst Kantorowicz was a complex figure whose long incident-filled life seemed to embody many of the contradictions of the twentieth century. A Jew from a disputed area between Germany and Poland who fought on the German side in World War I, he first achieved academic success with Frederick II (1927), a work whose language, in Gabrielle Spiegel's words, "often came perilously close to that of the Nazi party" in its desire to see a reconstituted German nation once again dominant on the world stage. Forced to emigrate when the Nazis came to power, Kantorowicz later became embroiled in controversy when, at Berkeley during the McCarthy era, he refused to sign an oath of allegiance designed to identify Communist Party sympathizers. Resigning from Berkeley as a result of the controversy over the loyalty oath, Kantorowicz moved to the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, where he remained for the rest of his life and where he wrote his masterpiece, The King's Two Bodies.

Kantorowicz the historian, however, had no wish to see his own life become a subject of historical study. When he died in 1963, his will directed that all his personal papers be destroyed. Why had a historian so involved in history wished to erase himself from it? In Kantorowicz: Stories of a Historian, Alain Boureau confronts this question by writing a unique work which is as much a speculation on the nature of biography as it is a biographical study. In the absence of personal records, Boureau seeks to get at the interior life of this enigmatic individual through the recourse of "parallel lives"—real-life figures and characters from novels of the time who were faced with similar crises and who shared aspects of upbringing, training, and circumstance.

This fascinating, nontraditional biography, originally published in France in 1990, appears for the first time in English, translated by Stephen G. Nichols and Gabrielle M. Spiegel.

Reviews

Reviews

After reading this grand little book, one is certain of one thing: the life of an intellectual can be just as passionate as the life of an adventurer.

It is not the work of Kantorowicz that forms the principal subject of this very good book by Alain Boureau, although he does offer profound commentary on it when the occasion presents itself. His more fundamental question is: how this work was shaped by the historian's life and destiny.

With Boureau it is as with Kantorowicz himself: one is not truly persuaded at the end, but one is dazzled by the performance.

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Book Details

Table of Contents

Forward by Martin Jay
Preface to the American Translation
Chapter 1. Visiting the Monument Known as E.K.
Chapter 2. The Hidden Body
Chapter 3. Incorporation
Chapter 4. The Lost Body
Chapter 5. Foreign Body
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Forward by Martin Jay
Preface to the American Translation
Chapter 1. Visiting the Monument Known as E.K.
Chapter 2. The Hidden Body
Chapter 3. Incorporation
Chapter 4. The Lost Body
Chapter 5. Foreign Body
Chapter 6. Two Bodies

Author Bios
Featured Contributor

Alain Boureau

Alain Boureau is the director of studies at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris. He is the author of many previous books, including The Lord's First Night, Alter Histoire, L'Événement sans fin, and La Papesse Jeanne.
Featured Contributor

Stephen G. Nichols

Stephen G. Nichols is James M. Beall Professor of French and Humanities at the Johns Hopkins University, author of Romanesque Signs: Early Medieval Narrative and Iconography, and editor of The New Philology.
Featured Contributor

Gabrielle M. Spiegel, Ph.D.

Gabrielle M. Spiegel is a professor of history at the Johns Hopkins University. She is the author of The Chronicle Tradition of Saint-Denis: A Survey and Romancing the Past: The Rise of Vernacular Prose Historiography in Thirteenth-Century France.