Norman O. Brown  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Norman Oliver Brown (1913, El Oro, Mexico2002, Santa Cruz, California) was an American intellectual of wide ranging interests.

His father was an Anglo-Irish mining engineer; his mother was a Cuban of Alsatian and Cuban origin. He was educated at Clifton College, then Balliol College, Oxford (BA, MA, Greats; his tutor was Isaiah Berlin), and the University of Wisconsin-Madison (PhD, Classics).

During the Second World War, Brown worked for the OSS as a specialist on French culture. After the war, he took a position as Professor of Classics at Wesleyan University. In the late 1960s, following a stay at the University of Rochester, he moved on to the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he was named Professor of Humanities.

His initial work in classics betrayed a Marxist bent (in his commentary to Hesiod's Theogony and his first monograph, Hermes the Thief). Following his disenchantment with politics in the wake of the 1948 presidential election, he turned to a deep study of the works of Freud, which culminated in his classic 1959 study Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytic Meaning of History. His Love's Body, written in an unorthodox and creative style that was as much poetry as prose, was a synthesis of Freudian and Marxist ideas, with Nietzsche thrown into the mix.

Brown was a highly popular professor, known to both friends and students as "Nobby". During his long residence at Santa Cruz, his interests broadened to include James Joyce (Brown's Closing Time juxtaposes Finnegans Wake with the Scienza Nuova of Giambattista Vico), re-encounters with classical poetry and mythology, including scholarly-poetic responses to Propertius, and to Ovid's Metamorphoses, an engagement with American modernist poetry (especially Robert Duncan and Louis Zukofsky) and a deep study of Islam. Many of his later writings were collected in the anthology Apocalypse and/or Metamorphosis.

Brown's academic friendships included the historians Christopher Hill, Carl Schorske, and Hayden White, and the philosophers Stuart Hampshire and Herbert Marcuse. At Wesleyan, he befriended the composer John Cage, an association that proved fruitful to both.


Secondary Literature

  • In Memoriam: Norman O. Brown, ed. by Jerome Neu, New Pacific Press, 2007
  • David Greenham, The Resurrection of the Body: The Work of Norman O. Brown, Lexington Books, 2006

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Norman O. Brown" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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