Cloth $45.00 ISBN: 9780226175096 Will Publish September 2014
An e-book edition will be published.

Philosophy Between the Lines

The Lost History of Esoteric Writing

Arthur M. Melzer

Philosophy Between the Lines
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Arthur M. Melzer

464 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2014
Cloth $45.00 ISBN: 9780226175096 Will Publish September 2014
E-book $36.00 ISBN: 9780226175126 Will Publish September 2014
Philosophical esotericism—the practice of communicating one’s unorthodox thoughts “between the lines”—was a common practice until the end of the eighteenth century. The famous Encyclopédie of Diderot, for instance, not only discusses this practice in over twenty different articles, but admits to employing it itself. The history of Western thought contains hundreds of such statements by major philosophers testifying to the use of esoteric writing in their own work or others’. Despite this long and well-documented history, however, esotericism is often dismissed today as a rare occurrence. But by ignoring esotericism, we risk cutting ourselves off from a full understanding of Western philosophical thought.
Arthur M. Melzer serves as our deeply knowledgeable guide in this capacious and engaging history of philosophical esotericism. Walking readers through both an ancient (Plato) and a modern (Machiavelli) esoteric work, he explains what esotericism is—and is not. It relies not on secret codes, but simply on a more intensive use of familiar rhetorical techniques like metaphor, irony, and insinuation. Melzer explores the various motives that led thinkers in different times and places to engage in this strange practice, while also exploring the motives that lead more recent thinkers not only to dislike and avoid this practice but to deny its very existence. In the book’s final section, “A Beginner’s Guide to Esoteric Reading,” Melzer turns to how we might once again cultivate the long-forgotten art of reading esoteric works.

Philosophy Between the Lines is the first comprehensive, book-length study of the history and theoretical basis of philosophical esotericism, and it provides a crucial guide to how many major writings—philosophical, but also theological, political, and literary—were composed prior to the nineteenth century.
Michael Zuckert, University of Notre Dame
Philosophy Between the Lines offers the best statement on this topic that there is. Melzer makes clear that the topic is important and his book is so well-written, cogently argued, and thoroughly researched that it will be of great interest to readers in intellectual history, history of philosophy, and all related disciplines."
Ralph Lerner, University of Chicago
“Modern scholarship has been afflicted by an astonishing amnesia about esoteric writing. The manner in which Melzer undertakes to overcome that amnesia reminds me over and over again of the way Holmes tries to demystify his own modus operandi to the befuddled Watson: ‘You see, but you do not observe.’ This is a work of exceptional clarity about a phenomenon that is commonly held to be impenetrable or unintelligible or nonexistent.”
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