An intellectual iconoclast, Norman O. Brown was one of the most imaginative contributors to post–World War II cultural theory. His books, grounded in deep classical erudition, include Hermes the Thief (1947), a pioneering attempt to apply Marxist historiography to the evolution of a Greek myth; Life against Death (1959), his acclaimed psychoanalytic reinterpretation of history; Love's Body (1966), an aphoristic questioning of the rationalist foundations of Western civilization; and Closing Time (1973), in which Brown interjects himself into an imagined conversation between eighteenth-century philosopher Giambattista Vico and the writer James Joyce. This essay traces the arc of his intellectual journey from its classical sources (Hermes and Hesiod) to his late confrontation with Vico and Joyce, from which he concluded, “There comes a time—I believe we are in such a time—when civilization has to be renewed by the discovery of new mysteries.”

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