A collection of daring short essays on topical themes, including politics, economics, religion, society.
Hans Magnus Enzensberger takes the title for this collection not from Jeremy Bentham’s famous prison but from a mid-1930s Cabinet of Curiosities opened in Germany by Karl Valentin. “There,” writes Enzensberger, “viewers could admire, along with implements of torture, all manner of abnormalities and sensational inventions.” And that’s what he offers here: a wide-ranging, surprising look at all manner of strange aspects of our contemporary world.
As masterly with the essay as he is with fiction and poetry, Enzensberger here presents complicated thoughts with a light touch, tying new iterations of old ideas to their antecedents, quoting liberally from his forebears, and presenting himself unapologetically as not an expert but a seeker. Enzensberger the essayist works in the mode of Montaigne, unafraid to take his reader in unexpected directions, knowing that the process of exploration is often in itself sufficient reward for following a line of thought. In an era that regularly laments the death of the public intellectual, Enzensberger is the real deal: a towering figure in German literature who refuses to let his mind or work be bound by the narrow world of the poetry or fiction section.