https://doi.org/10.31979/2151-6014(2014).050208">
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Abstract

Scholar of religion Karl Kerényi’s last book, Dionysos, is a grand attempt at reinterpreting ζωη (zoe), the Greek concept of indestructible life, which he distinguishes from βίος (bios), finite life. In Kerényi’s view, the meaning and sensual experience of zoe was expressed in its richest form in the Cretan beginnings of the cult of Dionysos. The major characteristics of this cult, as Kerényi describes, were beyond the cultural, political, and sexual limits of the Christian interpretations of life and nature. Searching for modern analogies to zoe, Kerényi explains the idea in relation to molecular biology’s minimum definition of life. Despite the fact that Kerényi’s book contains only minor references to contemporary philosophy, the philosophical consequences of his interpretations of Dionysos are not only radical but outline a notion of biopolitics far in advance of the mid- to late 20th-century development of it. By the affirmation of indestructible life and animality, Kerényi proposes a new humanism that moves beyond the limits of Kantian anthropology and also takes a radically different perspective to that of Heidegger’s philosophy of being, or Agamben’s notion of biopolitics. According to Kerényi’s investigations, since this alternative humanism, which is based on the radical recognition of the individuality and diversity of life forms, was once possible in an earlier stage of human culture, it is possible to reanimate it in order to shape anew how zoe is understood and therefore lived. Our relation to nature can thereby undergo a Dionysian transvaluation and assign us new responsibilities as well as open up a new trajectory for the 21st-century human.

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