Thomas Kemple‘s new book is an extraordinarily thoughtful invitation to approach Max Weber (1864-1920) as a performer, and to experience Weber’s work by attending...

Thomas Kemple‘s new book is an extraordinarily thoughtful invitation to approach Max Weber (1864-1920) as a performer, and to experience Weber’s work by attending to his spoken and written voice. Intellectual Work and the Spirit of Capitalism: Weber’s Calling (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) looks carefully at the literary structure and aesthetic elements of Weber’s arguments, considering how the texts offer an “allegorical resource for thinking sociologically.” Kemple argues that the formal structure of Weber’s ideas is inseparable from the content, and that understanding one is crucial for understanding the other. As a way into that formal structure, in each chapter Kemple offers an ingenious visual diagram that acts as a kind of “talking picture,” simultaneously evoking the cinematic elements of Weber’s own work and giving readers another tool for engaging the performative aspects of it. Kemple’s book is particularly attentive to the ways that Weber’s performance is shaped by a close engagement with the work of other writers, musicians, and thinkers, from Goethe and Tolstoy to Machiavelli and Martin Luther, and from the Bhagavadgita to The Valkyries. In addition, Marianne Weber – Max’s “wife, intellectual partner, and posthumous editor” – is an important presence throughout the book in helping us understand and read Weber’s work anew. Kemple’s thoughtful and beautifully written analysis helps us understand not just Weber’s own work, but also the value of that work for attending to issues of our own present.

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