Ansgar Allen

'In this university atmosphere, even the best people degenerate.' Nietzsche

Cynicism

Forthcoming 2019, MIT Press.

This book introduces the long history of Cynicism. That history begins with the arch-Cynic Diogenes of Sinope, born around 412 B.C.E., and ends with a discussion of contemporary cynicism. During the course of nearly two and a half millennia the meaning of cynicism has changed radically. To mark this transition, it is conventional to distinguish ancient and modern cynicisms by use of a capital ‘C’ for the former, and a lowercase ‘c’ for the latter. As this book demonstrates, the transition from ancient to modern cynicism did not occur at a specific point in history, nor was that transition absolute. Since contemporary cynicisms still bear some relation to their ancient precursors, much can be learned from the gradual adjustment of the word and all it connotes. The problem of contemporary cynicism—and it is generally construed as a problem—is better addressed if we understand where cynicism came from. Engagement with this history can lead to a closer appreciation of the role of cynicism in our lives. Here, the function of contemporary cynicism ranges from a means by which we are enslaved to the status quo, to a potential exit strategy (where this book makes the claim that there is revolutionary potential within contemporary cynicism that is systematically ignored). This approach—one that places the present in question by narrating its history—guides my argument as I explore how Cynic philosophy helped bequeath our modern cynical attitude.

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Diogenes, 1873, Jules Bastien-Lepage