Common Knowledge 16 (1):110-127 (2010)

When authors act by either publishing or non-publishing their texts, they sometimes use a language of gestures. These gestures can assist to position the author in the intellectual field. In this way some German eighteenth-century philosophers who thought against the grain of mainstream rationalism withdrew from the public sphere, using the image of the Egyptian god Harpocrates, who puts his index finger to his lips—a symbol for maintaining silence. In a sense one can thus label this kind of quietism as “harpocratism.” The essay examines the imagery and contextualizes it in three case studies from the years 1720-50. Moreover, it explores its sources in political as well as antiquarian and hermetic discourses of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The essay serves as a model for defining intellectual positions not so much by their content, but rather by their practices of symbolic distancing from others, of building identities in emotional communities, and of shaping free zones of inquiry where they could flourish
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DOI 10.1215/0961754X-2009-064
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