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Modern Language Quarterly


History and Its Limits: Human, Animal, Violence. By Dominick LaCapra.

Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009. ix + 230 pp.

Readers acquainted with the ten volumes of critical essays that Dominick
LaCapra has published since the early 1980s will find themselves in familiar
territory as they scan the table of contents of History and Its Limits. The three
essays that frame the volume (“Articulating Intellectual History, Cultural
History, and Critical Theory”; “Vicissitudes of Practice and Theory”; and
“Tropisms of Intellectual History”) return to the tasks of rethinking the rela-
tions (conceptual, disciplinary, and institutional) among contextually and
chronologically focused cultural history, the reconstructions of textually
articulated thinking in intellectual history, and the dialogic and reflexive
practices of critical theory that have organized much of his writing since
his first volume of critical essays appeared in 1983. Although the present
volume does not contain an independent essay or even an extended passage
on the psychoanalytic model of transferential relations as a means of histori-
cal reflection that avoids the complementary dangers of disavowal or scape-
goating and of projective overidentification, and that charts a path toward
a mature balance of critical empathy and respect for otherness, that model
is briefly reviewed in a number of the essays and clearly remains central to
LaCapra’s method. Moreover, three central chapters (“ ‘Traumatropisms’:
From Trauma via Witnessing to the Sublime?”; “Toward a Critique of Vio-
lence”; and “Heidegger, Violence, and the Origin of the Work of Art”) revisit
themes that have concerned him since the mid-1990s and have guided the
essays of his three volumes on Holocaust literature and theory.
The central question organizing his work remains how to defend the
commitment always to reinvent viable subject positions and maintain mean-
ingful dialogue across difference, to renegotiate more inclusive and complex
norms for ethical responsibility, and to reestablish continuities among the
dead, the living, and the still unborn against the seductive call for surrender
to the abyss of meaninglessness, to apocalyptic nihilism or ecstatic new begin-
nings, that emerges from experiences of historical trauma or destructive vio-
lence. LaCapra’s most prominent recent interlocutors — Jacques Derrida, of
course, but also Giorgio Agamben, Slavoj Žižek, and Eric Santner — retain a
prominent place in this volume. LaCapra’s pattern of revisiting, reconsider-
ing, and rethinking former themes and reengaging familiar interlocutors

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does not produce simple repetition. But the continuity is striking, and much
of the revision and rethinking is confined to complicating and qualifying,
to adding nuance and explication to previously stated positions. New termi-
nology is sometimes added to the mix to reinforce older conceptual distinc-
tions for new, younger readers; additional arguments clarify criticized claims
and shore up defenses against familiar counterplayers — even when some
of those counterplayers have new names and faces. As in LaCapra’s other
recent volumes, there is a great deal of self-reference in the footnotes and
increasing bits of personal retrospection and narrative in the text, almost as
though the author were launching a critical intellectual history of his own
career, with appropriate contexts, vulnerabilities, gaps, and self- questioning
as he engaged the texts of others.
But every volume of LaCapra essays also contains at least one substan-
tial essay that indicates a move in new directions, or that at least applies
familiar conceptual formulations and frameworks to a new set of questions
and texts. In this volume the moment for exploring the new comes in the
penultimate chapter: “Reopening the Question of the Human and the
Animal.” LaCapra’s decision to devote a full- length essay to the historical
and textual critique of the theme of human-animal relations is not entirely
surprising. As he mentions in the volume’s final footnote, his own interest
in the human- animal problem is not simply a response to recent trends in
both popular and academic culture. He proposed this theme to Cornell Uni-
versity’s Society for the Humanities in the mid-1990s. Longtime readers of
LaCapra’s work, moreover, will recall signs of this interest even earlier. The
essay “Chartier, Darnton, and the Great Symbol Massacre,” published in his
1989 collection Soundings in Critical Theory, begins with a short disquisition
about how the texts under consideration are blind to the perspectives of the
cats whose massacre is being discussed and how they avoid any mention of
anthropocentrism, species imperialism, or the methodological scapegoating
of the animal as other. In History and Its Limits the attentive reader should
be well prepared for the chapter on human- animal relations. Its texts and
themes are introduced in asides and footnotes early on, and the additions
or revisions to LaCapra’s discussions of trauma and violence and even to
Martin Heidegger’s concept of the “open” are replete with references to the
problem of redefining the human-animal distinction.
LaCapra’s goals and methods in addressing this distinction are also
familiar. His intention is to rethink the human-animal difference in a way
that is attentive to complex differences but eschews any attempt to create a
decisive binary and that engages in honest reflection on the motives, implica-
tions, and consequences of the ways that we construct animals and animality
as the other of humans and the human. His method is that of comparative
textual critique, which in this case adds the influential work of the novelist

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J. M. Coetzee to recently published texts by persistently favored dialogue

partners like Agamben and Derrida. What LaCapra ultimately finds in these
texts is, to some limited extent, the suggestion of a movement toward aban-
doning the binary distinctions between the human and the animal in favor
of more nuanced, labile, and self-reflective constructions, toward a vision
of living beings operating in an interactive network that respects differ-
ence and that places sovereignty or limitless power in question. However,
he also discerns more disturbing, dangerous tendencies toward solidifying
distinctions in new, even “posthuman” ways that keep the door open for the
scapegoating strategies and overidentifications of an anthropocentric iden-
tity politics. Such tendencies can move quickly toward apocalyptic and/or
utopian visions not only of history’s limits but of history’s end or of its poten-
tially radical new beginnings from a blank slate.
It would be wrong to define LaCapra as an unrepentant rational prag-
matist who constantly warns us of the dangers of giving in to our desires
for redemption or death and counsels the virtues of muddling through in a
world in which ultimate meaning cannot be achieved. His work clearly has
utopian dimensions. It is motivated by the hope that we can move toward a
future in which we will emerge as less anthropocentric and as modestly com-
mitted to a more inclusive paradigm of interrelations among the human, the
animal, and nature in general. But a pessimistic tendency is also evident in
LaCapra’s ruminations about the transhistorical foundational trauma of the
historical or cultural “birth” of humans as a distinctive agency in nature, a
trauma that has left its mark in the anxieties that fuel the apocalyptic and
redemptive fantasies that continue to haunt us despite all of our complex
strategies for managing them and despite our repeated attempts to follow
the lead of critics like LaCapra in developing effective therapies for “working
through” to a disabused, self-reflective acceptance of the limits of history.
John E. Toews

John E. Toews is professor of history and chair of the Comparative History of Ideas
Program at the University of Washington. His most recent book is Becoming His-
torical: Cultural Reformation and Public Memory in Early Nineteenth- Century Berlin

DOI 10.1215/00267929-1161363

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Fictions of Embassy: Literature and Diplomacy in Early Modern Europe.

By Timothy Hampton. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009.
xi + 235 pp.

For the last twenty years Timothy Hampton has offered to early modern liter-
ary studies steady contributions on the interactions of literature and history.
In Writing from History (1990) he explored the uneasy relationship between
the past and the present that is reflected in the changing role of exemplarity
in Renaissance literature. Moving on to concerns of literature’s effectiveness
in contemporaneous politics and culture, with Literature and Nation in the
Sixteenth Century (2001) he assessed the roles of a number of texts in shaping
communities leading up to the nation- state. He wrote both of these books
from a rigorous comparative perspective, adeptly situating well-known liter-
ary texts in a detailed, historically specific context in order to bring out well-
justified yet surprising readings of them, and thus shedding light on a broad
understanding of the early modern era in Europe. With Fictions of Embassy
Hampton continues to build his impressive body of scholarship: it is his most
accomplished book to date in its coverage of canonical texts from a variety of
European countries, its meticulous incorporation of historical material, and
its analysis, all of which lead to a major reassessment of the role of literature
in early modern Europe. Examining the undertreated area of diplomacy,
Hampton shows how its important and politically consequential use of rheto-
ric is bound up with literary texts, and how diplomacy and literature further
and bolster each other.
The “fictions of embassy” are twofold: they are the stories told in the
rhetoric of diplomacy that concern advancing national interests in foreign
or contested territory, and they are also the literary narratives that, as a
function of this advancement, represent diplomatic undertakings. Over the
course of the book, Hampton considers the consequences of his observation
that these two converge. In the introduction he states:
As a form of political action that is deeply structured by the dynamics
of signification, by problems of writing and reading, diplomacy pro-
vides a powerful analogy with the practice of sense making that we call
literature. The representation of diplomatic negotiation in a literary
text is the moment that dramatizes the limits of public rhetoric, of the
language of royal authority, national interest, and power politics. (10)

Hampton’s evidence comes from such a wide variety of authors — Machi-

avelli, Guicciardini, Rabelais, More, Ariosto, Tasso, Gentili, Montaigne,
Camões, Corneille, Shakespeare, Racine — that the link that prior scholar-
ship has bypassed seems, by the end of the book, self- evident. It is testimony
to his erudition and fluency in presentation that Hampton is able to make a
major discovery for early modern literary criticism so convincing and easily

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This treatment of literature, as a supplement to diplomacy that gauges

the latter’s reach and limits, suggests the New Historicist term negotiation —
interestingly enough, in the above quotation, in connection with diplomatic
negotiation. But Hampton is careful to distinguish his approach from New
Historicism, signaling in a footnote to the introduction that his use of the
word negotiation “refers to literal, historical practices,” in contrast to “the
more metaphorical usage of such terms that has become familiar in much
recent critical parlance” (199n19). Although Hampton’s work definitely
shows marks of the broad interdisciplinary engagement of New Historicism
(for several years he was on the editorial board of Representations), the dis-
tinction he makes here is an important one: it signals an implicit criticism of
some New Historicist critics who, in naming the operations of political, cul-
tural, and conceptual formations with terms that do not historically belong
to them, might play fast and loose with history.
However, one of the most valuable contributions of New Historicism
has been to consider the effectiveness of such formations in history so as
to appreciate their genealogical function in connection with present- day
experience. New Historicist criticism has examined, for instance, how the
cobbling together of such notions as “nation” or “self” in the early mod-
ern period can illuminate unseen aspects of contemporary versions of the
nation or self, which are often taken as natural or at least logically evolved.
The “negotiations” of which Stephen Greenblatt has extensively spoken have
to do with how literature interacts with the historical persistence of these for-
mations so as to reveal the rhetoric of cultural processes themselves. In his
exhaustive exploration of literature’s engagements with phenomena specific
to the early modern period, Hampton de- emphasizes interest in such a gene-
alogical approach. Indeed, his concluding chapter on Stendhal’s Le rouge et le
noir treats the novel as a turning point in literary representations, such that
the fictions of embassy available in European modernist writers — Proust,
Musil, Henry James — are very much not those of early modernity: “The
grand dramas of political negotiation studied here move to the margins of
the literary imagination” (195). Hampton respects a border between present
and past that other historicist approaches perhaps step over incautiously.
I make these observations not to point out a shortcoming in his book but
rather to distinguish its orientation.
The first pair of fictions of embassy that Hampton considers is that of
Guicciardini and Rabelais. By linking them, he shows how ostensibly histori-
cal and ostensibly fictional texts participate in the same rhetoric of ambas-
sadorial negotiation and, by situating their narratives with respect to history,
contribute to the effectiveness of this rhetoric in history. Hampton notes
that the ambassadors who play a central role in Guicciardini’s History of Italy
(1535 – 40) consistently invoke memory: negotiation during a time of uncer-
tainty relies heavily on reminders of stable past relationships (26 – 27). Strik-

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ingly, Rabelais’s ambassador Ullrich Gallet, in Gargantua (1534), makes the

same rhetorical gesture in negotiating with the invading tyrant Picrochole;
but, Hampton signals, he adds a future judgment of the moral goodness
of the friendship between the warring parties (29 – 30). Hampton under-
stands Rabelais’s innovation as belonging to literary allegory, which can
take license to posit a future outcome. Juxtaposition of the two authors
“suggests that the scene of diplomatic encounter marks the point at which
literary discourse initiates a movement away from real politics and toward
the imaginary — that is, fictional — reinvention of the political world” (31).
Hence Hampton demonstrates how political entities take shape in relation
to diplomacy and fiction; the process of situating the latter two in history,
with references to an imagined past and future, makes them rhetorically
effective and therefore persistent in history.
Hampton continues the pursuit of this relationship between fiction and
history in relation to Renaissance epic poems, mainly those of Ariosto and
Tasso, which he sees as political allegories: Ariosto’s “Orlando Furioso is, in
many ways, a poem about the making of Europe. Tasso’s poem [Gerusalemme
liberata] is about the reintegration of Europe” (81). Drawing on familiar
notions of the epic as depicting a closed world with a stable past whose char-
acters are largely under divine supervision, Hampton notes the paradox of
incorporating the uncertainty of negotiation into the epic (78). But in the
diplomacy that Tasso’s poem depicts, “negotiation with the enemy . . . turns
out to be negotiation with the literary past” (86). Tasso takes advantage of
elements of the romance to dramatize the conflict among different versions
of history and to test the effectiveness of the epic in the fictional promotion
of real political entities.
Hampton completes his study by examining drama — that of Corneille,
Shakespeare, and Racine — which is arguably the most powerful literary
genre in the early modern period for promoting the effectiveness of the
state. This power stems partly from the diplomatic function of representing
the sovereign: the early modern theater thematizes its own function when
it stages diplomatic scenes, underscoring not only the dramatic aspect of
diplomacy but also the political character and thrust of theater. Thus Cor-
neille’s Nicomède addresses “the tension . . . between an ideal of chivalric
heroism and the centralized structure of the state” (128). The play “binds a
literary recognition plot to the recognition of family legitimacy, to the rec-
ognition of moral virtue, to the recognition of political sovereignty” (123). In
so doing, it deploys aristocratic virtue as the principal component of recog-
nition against the centralized state. Corneille’s aristocratic characters reject
the “niceties of negotiation” (132) in such a way as to point to its limits. Turn-
ing to Shakespeare, Hampton shows how Hamlet illuminates both theater
and diplomacy by fusing their representational functions: Hamlet attempts
to take control at court through the theater, and diplomatic representatives

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play a role in several major plot turns. Through meticulous analysis of these
turns and their consequences for the action (or inaction) of the play, Hamp-
ton makes an impeccable case for the imbrication of theater and diplomacy
in the propagation and maintenance of the early modern English state.
Through such analysis, one of its hallmarks, the great value of Hamp-
ton’s book to literary scholarship becomes quite evident. Hampton illumi-
nates an entire function of literature that has hardly been touched; he shows
it to be at work throughout Europe and to characterize literary and rhetori-
cal activity in the early modern era. Fictions of Embassy opens a field of inquiry
that is unlikely to be exhausted soon.
Hassan Melehy

Hassan Melehy is associate professor of French at the University of North Carolina

at Chapel Hill. He is author, most recently, of The Poetics of Literary Transfer in Early
Modern France and England (2010). He also writes about cinema, recent and con-
temporary critical theory, and twentieth- century American literature. He is working
on two books, one on Montaigne, Shakespeare, and early modern political theory,
the other on Jack Kerouac’s transcultural poetics.

DOI 10.1215/00267929-1161378

The Key of Green: Passion and Perception in Renaissance Culture.

By Bruce R. Smith. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009. 326 pp.

Hailed on the jacket as an example of the new “ambient” studies, The Key of
Green gives the reader some physical sense of what it would have been like to
walk through the doorway pictured on the book’s luscious cover, a series of
frames within frames, inviting inward entry into the “green closet” at Ham
House in London. Emblematic of the argument of the whole book, the items
in the picture include green damask wall covering, green silk upholstery,
green and gold paint, rectangles within rectangles, and an important green
curtain drawn aside, revealing a gallery of small framed pictures. The image
insists, as does the argument of the book, that the Renaissance in England
surrounded itself with an immense amount of green “stuff.” Bruce R. Smith
reveals that there is far less slippage than we might suppose between the
activities of reading a book and contemplating the richness of a tapestry
on which an oil- painted picture might well be hung. Such simultaneous
layering of what we think of as disparate experiences is caught by Andrew

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Marvell’s mysterious comment in the poem “The Garden” about “a green

thought in a green shade”; we do not think that thinking has color. The
Renaissance clearly did, and Smith aims to unlock this perceptual spectrum
with a tapestry-like interweaving of commentary on a vast array of textual
and material artifacts, all of which figure green in some fundamental way.
Sometimes risking the censure Francis Bacon’s editor entertained for Sylva
Sylvarum, that it was “an Indigested Heap of Particulars” (56), Smith argues
that this heap was Bacon’s actual intent, and so doubtless it is his: Acrasia’s
victim Verdant in Spenser’s book 2 of The Faerie Queene, the pastures of Psalm
23, the bear garden next to the Globe, the O in Othello, green (that is, desir-
ing) songs, marginal decorations in tapestries and on the pages of books,
or the curtain at the back of the Elizabethan stage. One can “hear” colors
in that the perception of colors is a physical process, much like hearing.
Thus the key of green is an Elizabethan- sounding pun that works in many
dimensions; listening for green means to listen for the noise that leads away
from detached intellectual clarity to a more physically engaged immersion
in experience. Hardwick Hall is, for Smith, less its architectural feat of being
more glass than wall, and far more the colorful palimpsest of narratives that
envelope the viewer standing in the Long Gallery, presented with layers of
tapestries, elaborately framed portraits, and painted wall friezes. Such lay-
erings could also include mirrors that might reflect the viewer. “The green
matrix amid which human stories are enacted in Ovid, Genesis, and Milton
was realized, physically and imaginatively, in domestic interiors, tapestries,
painted cloths, and book covers” (140).
One domestic interior Smith singles out for scrutiny is far less august
than Hardwick Hall, but Queen Margaret’s Room at Owlpen Manor in
Gloucestershire mirrors the way the disparate elements of Hardwick’s rooms
are held together by green. Like the tapestries at Hardwick, the modest,
painted cloth showing the life of Joseph displays a “lush green surround”
(144) of a continuous landscape fronting all four walls. Smith reads this
interior: “The chair to the right and the table bearing a book and a cabinet
for keeping jewels, souvenirs, and miniature portraits suggest what it might
feel like to sit down and read in such a setting. Boundaries between words
and pictures are not fixed” (144). Aside from the unfixed interpenetration
of the dual experience of visual and textual stories, the fluid greenness of
the full sensory possibility, clearly fostered by such a space, the use of this
specific space to illuminate a more broadly Renaissance culture and not just
English culture may prove problematic. A perhaps more famous portrait of
reading, of Federico da Montrefeltro reading in full armor, with his dynasti-
cally important son beside him, and his equally famous “studiolo” at Urbino,
with its intarsia of books on shelves and other blond and brown instruments
of humanist inquiry, suggests that not all Renaissance reading cabinets are
green. Smith uses a number of Continental checkpoints in his discussions,

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but the main focus is on English cultural productions. It is perhaps too easy
for anglophone studies to sink into insularity, but the Renaissance was a pan-
European phenomenon, and it remains useful to keep the period designa-
tion something that works for a larger geographic area. As anyone who has
flown from London to Rome cannot help but notice, the solid green pretty
much peters out and turns to gold before one lands. Geography makes a
difference, especially in the studies of material culture.
“Material culture,” indeed, might describe this kind of work better than
“ ‘ambient’ studies”; one can find the acoustic world that has been lost to
scholarship in any period. But “material culture” presupposes the possibilities
of differences between moments of human history making. The crashing sea
may well in scientific fact make airwaves move in very similar ways over the
millennia, but different cultures at different times can hear it differently. It
can be wine- dark and also green.
One of the most seductive moves in Smith’s book unveils a delicate
period difference, only to smudge its demarcation. Just as one may wish to
resubtitle the volume Passion and Perception in English Renaissance Culture, so
might one wish to insist that the Renaissance remain the distinctive period
marker. A punning chapter title, “The Curtain between the Theatre and the
Globe,” engages the theater named the Curtain, a structure that held sway
between the temporal periods dominated first by the Theatre and then by
the Globe. The Curtain is a moment in time. But it is also, as Smith won-
derfully explains, a hanging cloth, and the chapter focuses as well on the
all-important “painted hangings” in all of the theaters, arguing that these
painted cloths gave a green surround for the plays themselves. In support of
this, Smith cites Richard Flecknoe’s Short Discourse of the English Stage (1664):
playgoing is like walking through a garden (210). Smith rightly claims that
“if we want to understand the perceptual dynamics of Shakespeare’s theater,
we must turn our attention to the physical stuff against which, out of which,
through which, between which the dramatized events took place” (212).
When, however, he makes the “green room,” so named only in 1697, the
place where the actors gather to put on the play — and also makes it remain
the place where revelatory action is staged when the curtain parts — he
blurs the great period difference there is when this place is accessed from
outside the theater building itself. Smith correctly takes to task those who
turn the Elizabethan thrust stage into a blank, modern black-box space with-
out the sensuous trappings of carvings and insignia of the actual stage sur-
round, its curtains and hangings, nooks offering crannies of potential wild-
ness. By transposing the Restoration “green room” back into the Elizabethan
moment, however, Smith eschews temporal precision. Why not insist that
when the little downstage curtained room is hived off into a separate space,
we are well on our way to the rigorous distinctions of the scenic drama,
where spectator and spectacle cannot intermingle while the show goes on?

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Such an argument would leave the Renaissance its period specificity, just as
restricting a certain resonance to green in England, a greener place than the
Renaissance Mediterranean, allows for greater geographic precision. The
studies of material culture permit us to temper ahistorical theory in ways
that are physically dense and intellectually enriching. Rayna Kalas’s Frame,
Glass, Verse: The Technology of Poetic Invention in the English Renaissance (2007),
which Smith properly cites, is a similar study that emphatically calls for the
temporal uniqueness of the material nature of English Renaissance liter-
ature’s technologies, neither medieval nor “early modern” but something
quite different from either. Few studies in material culture are as dense or
sensuously engaging with real physical stuff as The Key of Green, and thus it
is also astonishingly prescient about what we used to think were purely liter-
ary and intellectual matters. It is all the more important, then, that we let
its heap of particulars speak to the right generalities: this is an English and
purely Renaissance green, and it is a gem.
Maureen Quilligan

Maureen Quilligan is R. Florence Brinkley Professor of English at Duke University.

She is author of four books on allegory, epic, and Elizabethan literature. She edited
a special issue of the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, “Theodor De
Bry’s Voyages to the New and Old Worlds” (Winter 2011), which looks at how the
De Bry volumes influenced Europe’s view of Asia by seeing the ancient cultures of
the latter through the lens of “primitive” civilizations in the New World.

DOI 10.1215/00267929-1161387

Novel Violence: A Narratography of Victorian Fiction. By Garrett Stewart.

Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009. 268 pp.

The most powerful and influential theories of the novel have usually fought
shy of citation. The texture of fictional prose is not their concern, nor are
the specificities of particular passages of evidentiary interest; for that, there
is stylistics. As broad a generalization as this might seem, it has remarkably
few exceptions. Novel theories as otherwise distinct as those of Henry James,
Georg Lukács, Mikhail Bakhtin, and Lucien Goldmann reveal little invest-
ment in the kind of attention demanded by close reading. Even more con-
ventionally academic Anglo-American novel theorists, such as Peter Brooks
and Michael McKeon, fix their gaze on the architectonics of plot rather
than on the microcosmic world of the fictional sentence. To the extent that

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theorists involve themselves with purely linguistic details — the unavoid-

able example of Roland Barthes’s S/Z is paradigmatic — questions of genre
become hazy. As far back as Denis Diderot’s encomium on Samuel Richard-
son, a description of the effects of the novel’s formal uniqueness has tended
toward paraphrase instead of close analysis. The divide between close read-
ing and a genre theory of the novel is so stark that the most methodologi-
cally adventurous scholars, such as Franco Moretti, increasingly suggest that
the cord be cut: cast doubt on the existence of genre, or (the more recently
intriguing notion) abandon close reading for some other way of amassing
data. The implicit lesson of these instances, for scholars of the novel form,
is Heisenbergian: we can study the force of fictional style at the syntactic or
semantic level, or the momentum and direction of plot’s movements, but
careful analysis of one excludes precise knowledge of the other.
Garrett Stewart’s latest book on Victorian fiction, after more than a
decade away from the genre and the period, attempts nothing less than to
demonstrate the ability of the miniature to inform the macrocosms of plot,
and vice versa. This is a significant theoretical challenge, indeed advance, if
successful, and Stewart seems to know it. Novel Violence is dense with refer-
ences to the major novel theories of the past century — particularly the early
work of Lukács in The Theory of the Novel — alongside continual reliance on
linguistics and stylistics in the mode of Roman Jakobson. Stewart restates
and freshly nuances his central claims every few pages in a restless effort
to illustrate in as many potentially convincing ways, through as many allu-
sions, metaphors, and newly minted coinages as possible, the core argument
that the momentum of plot can best be detected and analyzed in the small-
est details of prose construction. Reading Stewart, one is in the presence
of a critic who passionately, earnestly (if wittily nonetheless), and uncom-
promisingly tries to sway one’s thinking, without a trace of diffidence or
scholarly reserve.
Uncompromisingly, indeed, because Stewart’s mode of argument does
not fudge the two terms he needs to correlate. On the one hand, in chapters
concentrating on Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, Anne Brontë, George
Eliot, and Thomas Hardy, there are almost molecular details of language:
repetitions of labial consonants in Tess of the d’Urbervilles, syntactic elisions of
plural into singular subjects in Little Dorrit’s final paragraph, the intervallic
vibrations of phonemes in The Mill on the Floss that signal the riverlike cur-
rents of the novel’s temporality. For practiced readers of novel theory, the
attention that Stewart pays to “the rule of the minuscule” is breathtakingly
unusual (57); the only comparable recent example is D. A. Miller’s investiga-
tion, in Jane Austen; or, The Secret of Style (2003), into the late Austen’s turn
to the overly repetitive signifer. On the other hand, there are plot analyses
of the broadest sort: the baroquely complicated backstory of Little Dorrit, and
the elimination of a biological mother, as a way of explaining the “nobody”

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that Arthur Clennam will become; the working of framed narratives in The
Tenant of Wildfell Hall; foreshadowing in The Mill on the Floss. Analepses, fram-
ing, temporality: the stuff of narratology. Phonemes, lexical shifts, syntax:
the stuff of stylistics. The two taken together as part of the same aesthetic
effort to register what Stewart calls “violence”: that would be, properly speak-
ing, “narratography.”
The guiding idea behind this new quantum mechanics of fiction runs,
more or less, as follows: the momentum behind the plots of Victorian fic-
tion, forcing characters into the enactment of social punishments or the
cozy confines of renunciation, is expressed in the medium of a prose that is
always registering resistance, delay, or even disagreement. “At any point in
a novel,” Stewart writes, “but especially in the compressions and exclusions
of its closure, narratography would offer a finely calibrated meter of vetoed
alternatives” (33). What close reading uncovers is the ripple, in the smallest
terrains, of the tectonic pressures of plot’s inexorable but unloved forward
movements. Like a needle registering the seismic energy of subterranean
torsion, narratography explains the stresses of strangely contorted prose as
the resistance of a genre to its own ironic ends. That resistance can be theo-
retically posited by narrative analysis but only truly felt, Stewart argues, at the
level of the sentence.
It is a stirring idea and a bravura performance: taking the vaguest of
Lukács’s assertions, that the novel is the genre of violent ironies, and rooting
it in the kind of attention to lexical detail that is seemingly foreign to the
usual consumption of fiction. While such an approach sometimes seems like
a salutary return to theorists more taken for granted than actually used, it
can also be read as an application of some intriguing theories outside the
common toolkit of scholarship on the novel. Stewart’s idea of what he calls
“intension,” the presence in prose of a tension between the purposive tem-
porality of plot and the microrhythms of hesitation and delay, is suggestively
reminiscent of some twentieth- century moral philosophy, particularly Don-
ald Davidson or the Stuart Hampshire of Thought and Action (1959), where
the relation between utterance and action is reconceived to show the impress
of action on verbalized intentions, or even to dismiss the Wittgensteinian
distinction between the two. For Stewart, analogously, the prose sentence
is the bearer of plot, if also the bearer of a (moral) resistance to moralized
plots. Even this subtle switch in influences is refreshing. Stewart is agreeably
suspicious of ideological suspicion itself as a dominant mode of novel theory,
in which novels can only be encyclopedic compendia of “contemporaneity
and its ephemera,” “middle- class lesson plans within a regimen of accultura-
tion” (16); the missing element here, Stewart argues, is language itself and
its infinitely flexible capacity for marking resistance, which is why his chosen
novels “are written not in British but in English” (17).
Such an ambitious attempt to synthesize narratology with stylistics
implies a goal greater than merely convincing the reader with its own dem-

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Dames Review 265

onstrations, although Stewart’s readings are exemplary and thoroughly

satisfying balancing acts between the small unit and the large claim. His
contribution to novel theory demands a more strenuous criterion of judg-
ment: its applicability to the genre as a whole, its portability beyond the
confines of his authors. With the exception of Brontë, they are distinctive,
even exuberant, stylists; what might one do with the realm of fiction, where
style aims at its own transparency or colorlessness? Anthony Trollope’s even
tone, Henry Fielding’s magisterial distance, Daniel Defoe’s rapid colloquial-
ity: could these styles be read in a “narratographic” mode? Stewart’s chapter
on Brontë suggests that prose need not be striking to be worth studying for
its narratographic effects, but that claim never receives a thorough airing,
and the suspicion lingers that poor, or even ordinary, prose could not evince
the remarkable effects Stewart finds in Dickens and Hardy. Similarly, what of
ordinary novel reading? Stewart brilliantly traces his attention to “the cali-
bration of storyline as material sequence, from line to line, frame to frame”
(13), but does this describe the work of novels, or a particular institutional
mode of their study — otherwise known as close reading? Slowing a film
down to frame-by-frame analysis means viewing it at a rate that the mass of
its consumers would not recognize as viewing. In slowing down the reading
process, does Stewart likewise warp his object of study?
By eliciting these questions, however, Stewart has already posed novel
theory a necessary, and bracing, challenge. Theorists of fictional prose do
not agree on the kinds of reading that novels demand or on the pace (or
scale) of analysis best suited to their form. More than that, these questions
have scarcely ever been mooted. Instead, a shy eclecticism reigns, in which
scholars borrow their methods indiscriminately: some from the microanaly-
ses of lyric poetry, others from the paraphrases common to anthropology
or sociology, depending on the kinds of conclusions they feel most needed.
Meanwhile, the species of reading demanded by the novel remains enig-
matic. Stewart’s insistence on the medium of prose — and the slow, forward-
moving accretions of its effects, tensed against the closures of plot — may not
convince everyone, but it is an intriguing answer to a question that needs to
be asked.
Nicholas Dames

Nicholas Dames is Theodore Kahan Associate Professor in the Humanities at

Columbia University. He is author of Amnesiac Selves: Nostalgia, Forgetting, and
British Fiction, 1810 – 1870 (2001) and The Physiology of the Novel: Reading, Neu-
ral Science, and the Form of Victorian Fiction (2007). His current project is a study
of the chapter, from manuscript Bibles to the modern novel.

DOI 10.1215/00267929-1161408

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266 MLQ June 2011

Owning Up: Privacy, Property, and Belonging in U.S. Women’s Life Writing.
By Katherine Adams. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. vi + 264 pp.

In Owning Up Katherine Adams studies life writings by and/or about Mar-

garet Fuller, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Keckley,
and Louisa May Alcott to argue that, for conceptualizations of privacy to be
meaningful, they must be developed in a context informed by analyses of
market capitalism and commodification. Despite her concentration on life
writing, Adams aptly demonstrates that her book is not an examination of
the functions of autobiography. Notably, among the autobiographers she
discusses, Truth was not conventionally literate, and Fuller never completed
the autobiography she began in 1840. Instead, devoting separate chapters
to Fuller, Stowe, Keckley, and Alcott, Owning Up traces two lines of inquiry.
First, it investigates how “recurring reports of imperiled privacy help to
frame democratic freedom as a condition of self-protection versus engage-
ment” (9). Second, it addresses “the increasing demands for change being
voiced by disenfranchised groups,” from which Adams concludes that “pri-
vacy might also be understood as self-regard based on exclusion, a process
of (re)claiming free and autonomous individuality against the threat of alien
others” (10).
Adams invents the term self- (non)possession to signify “the double move-
ment by which privacy, and the ‘inviolable personality’ with which it precisely
coincides, stand both with and against the idea of property” (12 – 13). Assum-
ing that “experiences of privacy and interiority are always accessed via public
mediation and subject to public negotiation” (8), she posits self-(non)posses-
sion as complementary and integral to early American notions of “self-right”
(13). On this basis, Owning Up cogently dismantles claims of “self-possession,”
insisting instead on “the inherently unstable and dynamic nature of pri-
vacy” (13). For the most part, her neologism is effectively deployed in Own-
ing Up, but it suffers from a problem localized in Adams’s theoretical intro-
duction: it seems designed to speak only to a small nucleus of professional
academics — not merely the privileged readership of other professors of
nineteenth- century American literature or, more narrowly yet, the few
scholars whose theories of privacy discourse in early US literary history are
engaged in Owning Up, including Bruce Baggett, Lauren Berlant, Elizabeth
Maddock Dillon, Glenn Hendler, Shirley Samuels, and Michael Warner.
That is, Adams takes part in a conversation among scholars writing primar-
ily for each other and often in exclusive academic language, even though a
broader public stands to gain from her introduction, as the central precepts
of the text convey with disquiet and sometimes with alarm. Unfortunately,
the exclusive discourse of Owning Up, which is otherwise invested in the
politics of democratization, will repel nonacademics and thus diminish the
book’s usefulness. (In the final critical readings, however, Adams breaks free

Published by Duke University Press

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Moody Review 267

of the closed critical circle, and her chapters on Keckley and Alcott unfold
with grace and fluidity.)
Adams departs significantly from other scholars’ discourses on private-
public relationships as she highlights her interest in representations of inter-
sections of private life with political and economic activity. She incisively
notes that “previous studies of privacy have tended to reassert the notion of
a linear shift from republicanism to liberalism, wherein private life is said to
replace the public-political activity as the locus of democratic freedom and
identity” (7). An important distinction of Owning Up, consequently, is that
it “troubles this account by demonstrating that in privacy discourse both
paradigms of political value and identification work simultaneously, some-
times contradictorily, sometimes complementarily” (7). To this end, Adams
cogently argues that, now as in the selected autobiographies’ constructed
nineteenth century, the pursuit of privacy is integral to the pursuit of prop-
erty ownership, even to one’s own corporeality, as well as to individual con-
ceptualizations of self- possession: a “private” pursuit always comes at the
expense of persons either intrinsically less advantaged or rendered inferior,
distinctly other and thus less deserving. Moreover, Adams’s title, Owning Up,
connotes an admission of guilt or responsibility. Coupled with the subtitle’s
keywords, property and belonging, the title also conveys possession as a sign of
societal advancement, upward mobility, and the acquisition of ever greater,
more coveted property. In other words, Adams cogently demonstrates that
integral to US notions of private property and “national privacy” is a worry
that these quantities are persistently endangered, besieged, “imperiled” (71).
Thus, further inherent in constructions of (entitled) privacy is a compulsion
to restrict other (read: oppressed) people’s ownership of property, chiefly
their “excessive” and “uncontainable embodiment” (91). Adams contends
that Stowe figures this dependent, unfree condition in the 1856 novel Dred
as at once “the problem of surplus [black and/or female] bodies” and “the
racialized threat of privation” (71, 75). The chapter on Stowe follows one in
which Adams demonstrates how Fuller similarly exploited early nineteenth-
century tropes of enslaved blacks and noble natives to argue — against male
Transcendentalists — that white women of her day could use abolitionism to
negotiate both privacy for themselves and self-possession rooted in Hege-
lian reciprocity and recognition by a heteronormative other self-possessed
self. Throughout, Owning Up illustrates nineteenth- century white America’s
determination to oppress particularly colored others so as to deny what it first
cultivated, then criticized as failed self-possession. This central contention —
about “a logic of racialized bodily excess that threatens white democratic
freedom” (71) and especially the assertion of white male entitlement to
privacy and property that is articulated through the subjugation of white
women and people of color — is perhaps Adams’s most exciting claim.
Also compelling is Adams’s dispersed applications of the theoretical

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framework of private property and privacy-as-property to excavations of the

US presidency as a site of self-(non)possession. Specifically, Adams scruti-
nizes notorious private relations and sensational public displays in and of
the Lincoln and, more recently, the Clinton White House. Focusing on the
widowed Mary Todd Lincoln in her chapter on Keckley’s ex- slave narrative
(conspicuously, Owning Up’s shortest but also sharpest), Adams observes
presidents and their spouses as “figures of imperiled privacy [who] generate
political value specifically by disavowing their own material and historical
contingency. . . . Such disavowals . . . protect norms of racial and gendered
political power” (126 – 27). Commenting on Bill Clinton’s impeachable sex-
capades and his ardent insistence that “even presidents have private lives”
(quoted on 119), Adams casts “presidential privation” and iconicity as reflec-
tive of an urgent “double identity”: “The privacy that ‘even presidents have’
is not theirs alone; it is also the (non)possession of their democratic subjects”
(119). From there she exposes the paradox and exploitation of the US presi-
dent as one who is not, must not be, and cannot be a private person. Valuable
for its insights into the interplay of privacy-property discourses’ politics and
socioeconomics, of stalwart white masculinity and sacred white domestic-
ity alike imperiled, Owning Up invites us to contrast persistent “images of
embodied black unfreedom” with “the fantasy of white disembodiment”
in the US today (75), to consider — to recognize — ways that “the terrifying
unfreedom of embodiment” rules us yet (79).
Joycelyn Moody

Joycelyn Moody is Sue E. Denman Distinguished Chair in American Literature at

the University of Texas at San Antonio, where she teaches early African Ameri-
can literatures and cultures and US black autobiography. Her recent publications
include chapters in The Cambridge Companion to African American Women’s Litera-
ture (2009) and The Cambridge History of African American Literature (2010).

DOI 10.1215/00267929-1161417

Published by Duke University Press

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Lei Review 269

Chinese Shakespeares: Two Centuries of Cultural Exchange.

By Alexander C. Y. Huang. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.
xi + 350 pp.

Shakespeare’s presence in the sinophone world has attracted increasing crit-

ical attention in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Murray J. Levith’s
Shakespeare in China (2004), a concise introduction to the subject, exemplifies
an old “area studies” mode, presenting a rough chronology of Shakespeare
in mainland China with a separate chapter on Hong Kong and Taiwan.1
Shashibiya (2003), which exhibits Li Ruru’s extensive research and intimate
knowledge of her subject, classifies the productions in terms of approaches
and styles.2 More than half of the twenty- one essays in Shakespeare and Asia
(2010), volume 17 of the Shakespeare Yearbook, also center on Shakespeare in
mainland China and Taiwan.3 Alexander C. Y. Huang’s Chinese Shakespeares
unearths previously overlooked materials and provides further insight into
the subject by foregrounding relations between Shakespeare and China. Like
its predecessors, Huang’s book surveys the Bard’s reincarnation in China
in roughly chronological order, from the eighteenth century to the present,
but it is broader in scope, covering not only stage plays but also allusions,
invocations, translations, reader reception, novel adaptation, and cinema.
As editor of Shakespeare Performance in Asia and now as coeditor of Global
Shakespeares, both electronic performance archives based at the Massachu-
setts Institute of Technology, Huang would seem most qualified to authorize
an encyclopedic, data-laden volume of theater history.4 However, his goal is
different here: his historical research is filtered through theorization, and
indeed its theoretical sophistication is what makes this book stand out from
the others. Early on Huang asks, “What does ‘Shakespeare’ do in Chinese
literary and performance culture? Conversely, how do imaginations about
China function in Shakespearean performances, and what ideological work
do they undertake — in mainland China, Taiwan, and other locations?” (3).
The following chapters then address these questions, using individual works
as “case studies.”
The book is divided into four parts. The first, “Owning Chinese Shake-
speares,” lays the theoretical groundwork. Huang maintains that China’s
Shakespearean rewrites turn nation and dramatist into “syntactical catego-

1Murray J. Levith, Shakespeare in China (London: Continuum, 2004).

2Li Ruru, Shashibiya: Staging Shakespeare in China (Hong Kong: Hong Kong Uni-
versity Press, 2003).
3 Douglas A. Brooks, Yang Lingui, and Ashley Brinkman, eds., Shakespeare and

Asia (Lewiston, NY: Mellen, 2010).

4 Shakespeare Performance in Asia, web.mit.edu/shakespeare/asia; Global

Shakespeares, globalshakespeares.org.

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ries that are used to generate meanings” and that the interrelations amount
to a “rich network of interpretations and positions” that “enables multifac-
eted modes of reading both Shakespeare and China” (24). Huang acutely
criticizes current discourses surrounding intercultural Shakespeare: “an
overflow of ‘reports’ . . . lacking in ideological analysis” (36) reduces Chi-
nese Shakespeares to ahistorical, apolitical, and hence irrelevant spectacles.
Nor is the postcolonial model applicable: China was never truly colonized
by the Western powers (26). The local is not always the antithesis to the
global or the hegemonic; often the foreign is employed to resist and liberate
(28). Citing Patrice Pavis, Dennis Kennedy, and others, Huang concludes
that no current critical vocabulary or grammar precisely accounts for the
cultural phenomenon of Chinese Shakespeares (31). Thus he proposes a
new strategy: “locality criticism — that is, analyses that focus on shifting
localities that cluster around the artists, their works, and their audiences”
(17). Location — spatial and temporal, political and cultural, collective and
personal — gives meanings to a production. “Any manifestation of Chinese
Shakespeares must be understood in relation to the subtexts of the multiple
deferrals to local and foreign authorities, authenticity claims, and unexam-
ined silences” (26).
The rest of the book puts Huang’s theory to work. Part 2, “The Fiction of
Moral Space,” examines how Shakespeare was used or abused without being
read or translated in the early twentieth century and before. Invoked as a
symbol of Western superiority, an anecdotal or fictional Shakespeare sup-
ports the pro-Western bias of the revolutionary-minded. Part 3, “Locality at
Work,” presents several radically different cases, ranging from the 1930s to
the 1970s. A chapter on silent film convincingly associates Shakespeare with
modernity and cosmopolitanism; another, on political theater, contrasts
politically loaded staging and reading of tragedy and apolitical productions
of comedy. Part 4, “Postmodern Shakespearean Orients,” reviews several
productions from the 1980s to the first decade of the 2000s that involve Chi-
nese aesthetics or philosophy. Painstakingly reconstructing past experiences,
such as the 1942 Hamlet staged in a Confucian temple or the 1983 Othello
in jingju (Beijing opera), Huang sometimes indulges in detail — sets, mise-
en- scène, performance history, and so on — without fully justifying it. The
reader would appreciate more guidance in connecting Huang’s extended
report and description to his argument for the centrality of locality, which
could also be further developed and solidified. Indeed, although Huang
nicely points out such critical pitfalls as postcolonialism and authenticity
claims, his theorization does not truly go beyond tenacious calls for contex-
tualization. Considering the vast materials he places under the term Chinese
Shakespeares, however, a more elaborate and sustainable theory would run
the risk of generalizing. The difficulty Huang has to confront challenges all
critics treating a similar subject.

Published by Duke University Press

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Lei Review 271

The plethora of materials, indeed, poses a problem. Huang opens the

book with a series of questions about China, Chinese, and Chineseness. Yet
this critical, reflexive voice gradually falls silent as he progresses to a discus-
sion of theatrical pieces. Is Chinese a purely linguistic term, and thus the
equivalent of sinophone? Rather than a language, “Chinese” is more accu-
rately described as a language family with numerous branches. Except in
passing, Huang’s discussion excludes, for example, all productions in Can-
tonese or Taiwanese, and in this sense his subject might be better termed
Mandarin Shakespeares. Or is Chinese a racial, a political, an ideological, a
cultural, or an aesthetic term? Each choice entails similarly complicated
and complicating questions. Huang might have addressed this issue more
directly, providing a clear rationale for the particular cases he has selected.
This is not an issue in the first half of the book — for his purposes, there is
only one China from the First Opium War to World War II — but it surfaces
as China starts to proliferate. For example, while Chinese- opera Shakespeare
reemerges in the mid-1980s both in mainland China and in Taiwan, the
motivations are utterly different for the two and cannot be accommodated
in a single explanation. As it turns out, although Huang tries not to set up a
separate chapter for Taiwan (as both Levith and Li do), the book practically
does it anyway. Almost all discussion following the first chapter, the theory
chapter, focuses on works produced in mainland China. The sixth chapter,
on Chinese opera, centers on mainland China’s 1983 Othello and only briefly
mentions Taiwan’s Contemporary Legend Theatre, which has become a syn-
onym for Chinese- opera Shakespeare for many audiences outside greater
China. The seventh chapter, on postmodern productions, by contrast, dis-
cusses Stan Lai’s Buddhist interpretation and Wu Hsing-kuo’s solo version of
King Lear, both from 2001 in Taiwan. The Cantonese- speaking communities
(in Guangdong Province and Hong Kong) and the overseas Chinese (in
Singapore and the United States) are all pushed to the periphery. Certainly
what Chinese means is controversial and thus merits serious explication in a
book using it as the first word of its title.
Notwithstanding these caveats, Huang makes a major contribution with
his extensive research on more obscure Chinese Shakespeares, including
early allusions, silent film, and Sino- Soviet collaborations, many contradic-
tory to the stereotype of ethnic- colored Chinese Shakespeare. He also exam-
ines important performances of huaju (spoken drama, as opposed to tra-
ditional opera), which have so far escaped international attention because
of an orientalist bias that regards non-Western productions as necessarily
musical or physical, ethnically colored and done with period costumes.
The book is highly accessible to readers unfamiliar with China or Chi-
nese, and the appended chronology juxtaposing historical events, worldwide
Shakespeares, and Chinese Shakespeares is a very useful reference. Readers
seeking a comprehensive account of Chinese Shakespeares, however, should

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also consult Huang’s earlier journal articles and book chapters, as this book
does not include extensive discussion of the best-known works: The Kingdom
of Desire (jingju adaptation of Macbeth, 1986), The Tale of Bloodstained Hands
(kunqu, or Kun opera, adaptation of Macbeth, 1986), The Prince’s Revenge
(yueju, or Yue opera, adaptation of Hamlet, 1994), King Qi’s Dream (jingju
adaptation of King Lear, 2005), and Shamlet (huaju parody of Hamlet, 1992),
productions also detailed by Li and others.
Perhaps the most valuable contribution of this book lies beyond Huang’s
research or theory, in the very questions he asks. His keen observations on
intercultural exchange and critique of prevailing discourses make the book
relevant not only to scholars and students of sinophone Shakespeare but also
to Shakespeareans exploring the Bard’s afterlife in various fields: dissemi-
nation, modernization, localization, translation, transplantation, appropria-
tion, and intercultural or cross-media adaptation.
Bi- qi Beatrice Lei

Bi- qi Beatrice Lei is associate professor of English at National Taiwan Univer-

sity. She coordinates the NTU Shakespeare Forum, a cross- disciplinary team that
researches, teaches, and promotes scholarly exchange. She has published on Sid-
ney, Shakespeare, intercultural theater, television drama, and early modern medi-
cine, and she is writing a book on Shakespeare performances in Taiwan as well as
constructing a Taiwan Shakespeare database.

DOI 10.1215/00267929-1161426

The Speed Handbook: Velocity, Pleasure, Modernism.

By Enda Duffy. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009. 306 pp.

Enda Duffy’s survey of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries’ preoccupa-

tion with speed as “the single new pleasure invented by modernity” (3) pro-
ceeds from the basic assumption that “speed is political” (3), and the road
ahead initially seems clear. Duffy gives an account of “speed theory” wherein
the relation between space and time becomes “rate of movement” (27), then
moves on to thrills and detective fiction under the waning of colonialism;
the other chapters examine the consumerism of “car culture,” the experi-
ence of blur, and accidents and crashes, concluding with a brief epilogue.
This is promising material, and the book will no doubt orient those new to
the topic. Duffy makes a point of engaging multiple media, bringing lit-
erature alongside visual works like Jacques- Henri Lartigue’s photographs,

Published by Duke University Press

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Burstein Review 273

Henri Matisse’s lovely 1917 painting Le parebrise, sur la route de Villacoublay

(The Windshield on the Road to Villacoublay), Tamara de Lempicka’s 1925 Auto-
portrait (which puns on the placement of the artist amid Bugatti), and stills
from Frederick A. Talbot’s 1912 book Moving Pictures: How They Are Made
and Worked.
But at times — infrequently, granted — a literary critic must ask, why
does this argument not reckon with Keanu Reeves? The question is neither
flip nor anachronistic. The Reeves film Speed was made in 1994, and Duffy
moves from the late nineteenth century through J. G. Ballard’s 1973 novel
Crash and his 1990 revision of The Atrocity Exhibition; furthermore, Duffy con-
cerns himself with movies per se — with caper films, car chases, and Jean-Luc
Godard’s 1967 Weekend. So why not the film that takes the driving force of
cinema — the need to go quickly — as a self-reflexive plot engine?
What I will term the Keanu Lacuna is indicative of other elisions. The
chapter “Crash Culture” overlooks the massive amount of work on shock by
cinema studies and cultural historians like Ben Singer, whose “Modernity,
Hyperstimulus, and the Rise of Popular Sensationalism” charts so well the
riveting effect of crashes on the American public.1 While mentioned in the
bibliography, Jeffrey T. Schnapp’s “Crash (Speed as Engine of Individuation)”
appears in no substantive way, even as it covers much of the same terrain as
The Speed Handbook and does so far more rapidly. Schnapp gets to the socio-
aesthetic purchase of crashes — beginning with, de rigueur for a scholar of
Italian modernism and aficionados of early twentieth- century representa-
tions of cars and what goes wrong with them, F. T. Marinetti’s “Founding and
Manifesto” of Italian futurism. Schnapp’s account is more nuanced, making
a conceptual leap that Duffy only partly articulates.2 Midway through the
book Duffy suggests that
it is possible for the modernist subject to sustain a reaction to this new
gaze [of modernist looking, here through the windshield of a speeding
car] as both hyperstimulation and narcotic dreamscape at once, playing
one against the other, or zapping from one to the other, in a new gram-
mar of perception which short- circuits evaluations of the authentic and
inauthentic and proposes a new rhythm of sensation to navigate space
and its multiple scenes. (167)

1 Ben Singer, “Modernity, Hyperstimulus, and the Rise of Popular Sensation-

alism,” in Cinema and the Invention of Modern Life, ed. Leo Charney and Vanessa R.
Schwartz (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 72 – 99.
2 Jeffrey T. Schnapp, “Crash (Speed as Engine of Individuation),” Modernism/

Modernity 6, no. 1 (1999): 1 – 49; see F. T. Marinetti, “The Founding and Manifesto
of Futurism” (1909), trans. R. W. Flint and Arthur A. Coppotelli, in F. T. Marinetti,
Let’s Murder the Moonshine: Selected Writings (Los Angeles: Sun and Moon Classics,
1991), 47 – 52.

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For his part, Schnapp simply makes plain that speed as a form of excess is only
part of a phenomenological economy whose circuit also includes stopping
and boredom. That is, overstimulation and understimulation — excitation
and boredom, drive and acedia (will-less-ness, or not moving forward) — are
inextricably bound.3 Schnapp is not alone in this conclusion: Miriam Bratu
Hansen’s reading gets to the same issue for Walter Benjamin’s modernity,
that enervation and innervation are two directions but on the same street;
so does Susan Buck-Morss’s “Aesthetics and Anaesthetics”; and, perhaps most
of all, so does the strangely undercited tear through neurasthenia’s place in
modernity by Anson Rabinbach, who pithily concludes, “Fatigue does not
threaten civilization — it ensures its triumph.”4 There is, in other words, a
dearth in Duffy’s book not just of pivotal conversations but of ones that might
have sped things up.
Paradoxically, Duffy takes as part of his task the need either to provide
synopses of critical theory or to invoke theory as a stand-in for his own argu-
ment. Fredric Jameson hovers over and repeatedly descends on the chapter
“Speed Theory”; Paul Virilio comes in second, by a hair. Marc Augé’s idea
of “non-place” comes in third, and even after pages of summary one may
remain unconvinced that the non-place of “supermodernity” (71; this term
also is Augé’s) is a useful way into Sherlock Holmes’s suspicion of what goes
on inside the private home (75). Duffy’s point is that the home is “emplaced”
in nineteenth- and twentieth- century literature (74) and yet came to be
regarded with suspicion, as Anthony Vidler argues persuasively in The Archi-
tectural Uncanny (1992). (Too, as Vidler’s Freudian reference reminds us,
home has been creepy ever since Oedipus was kicked out of his.)5
Two major conceptual weaknesses of the book are the means by which
it reckons with gender and its account of the relations between high and
low, or popular, culture. Duffy remarks, “The history of speed culture must
also carefully consider the blatant, and peculiar, sexism which has attended
the persuasiveness of speed” (55). The sentence that follows — “The car
has almost always had its attractiveness to its imagined male consumer . . .”
(55) — is only partly true, given the role that women have played in consumer
economies, as Laura L. Behling and Richard Martin make clear expressly
in the realm of the female as a target of car culture. Indeed, Behling ties
the “artifacts of the young automobile industry” to the traffic it had with

3Thanks to Brian Reed for reminding me of acedia’s etymology.

4Miriam Bratu Hansen, “Benjamin and Cinema: Not a One-Way Street,” Critical
Inquiry 25, no. 2 (1999): 306 – 43; Susan Buck-Morss, “Aesthetics and Anaesthetics:
Walter Benjamin’s Artwork Essay Reconsidered,” October, no. 62 (1992): 3 – 41; Anson
Rabinbach, “Neurasthenia and Modernity,” in Incorporations, ed. Jonathan Crary and
Sanford Kwinter (New York: Zone, 1992), 187.
5 Anthony Vidler, The Architectural Uncanny: Essays in the Modern Unhomely (Cam-

bridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992).

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Burstein Review 275

American female suffrage.6 Duffy takes seriously the representation of the

female driver; his reading of de Lempicka’s Autoportrait, however, rests on an
assumption that seems, if not outdated, then wrong: “In the work of middle-
brow artists like de Lempicka . . . it is as if the avidly pursued aim to render
speed is sabotaged when they insist, first, on showing how speed technology’s
strength can be measured with reference to the power of the human body
and, second, on displaying with shopworn narratives of gender empower-
ment the glamour of corporeal speed” (189). Thus Duffy believes that “car
art, . . . to be truly new, had to jettison older models of representation of the
human subject” (189). He is echoing avant- garde rhetoric, with its emphasis
on rupture, but it does not hold for the site- specific moment of engagement:
there is in fact nothing “shopworn” about the “gender empowerment” of a
woman at the wheel in the 1920s, or in de Lempicka’s image (whose visage
Duffy wrongly reads as “a kind of sneer” [186]; it is rather that of a blasé,
autonomous female), in which the artist etches herself onto the car’s frame:
“TdL” is stamped above the über- modernist door handle. The marker of
who is in charge of the image making serves both as the car’s icon and as
the artist’s signature. In all, gender is treated either in passing or strangely.
According to Duffy, the black woman in Heart of Darkness “occupies much the
same role that the Sherpa guides played in Western representations when . . .
Sir Edmund Hillary became the ‘first man’ to climb Mt. Everest” (89), but
he overlooks Marlow’s encounter with the figure, which is entirely at odds
with Duffy’s rendering Marlow’s vision of Africa as “a blankness whose pos-
sible value as a nature reserve of the primitive is relayed to us in tones whose
blandness, and whose bleakness, can make them seem reverential but which
betray no real interest” (89).
Duffy also takes for granted a “cultural class divide” (272) between
“high culture” and “low culture” that modernist critics have complicated
for the past twenty years, with a noted upswing in engagements with the
relationship between modernism and the marketplace in the past ten, per-
haps manifested best in the new modernist studies and an associated surge
in periodical studies. In any case, T. S. Eliot has been thoroughly outed as a
fan of the music hall,7 and Virginia Woolf wrote for Vogue. Duffy’s totalizing
assumption is that the “high literature of the twentieth century” treated
speed, “when it was regarded at all by serious writing,” “with an almost puri-
tan suspicion” (119). It is true that car novels by writers like G. Sidney Pater-

6 Laura L. Behling, “ ‘The Woman at the Wheel’: Marketing Ideal Womanhood,

1915 – 1934,” Journal of American Studies 20, no. 3 (1997): 13. See also Richard Mar-
tin, “Fashion and the Car in the 1950s,” Journal of American Studies 20, no. 3 (1997):
51 – 66.
7 See Barry Faulk, “Modernism and the Popular: T. S. Eliot’s Music Halls,” Mod-

ernism/Modernity 8, no. 4 (2001): 603 – 21.

Published by Duke University Press

Modern Language Quarterly

276 MLQ June 2011

noster, author of The Motor Pirate (1904), The Lady of the Blue Motor (1907), and
other dromophilic romances, were zipping along merrily in the popular mar-
ket, but Marcel Proust called himself an “automobile enthusiast” and wrote
about motoring trips for Le Figaro in 1907, later plundering the article for the
vision of steeples in Swann’s Way;8 Duffy himself engages in an epigraph the
love affair that Gertrude Stein had with her car Auntie in The Autobiography
of Alice B. Toklas; and even as Robert Musil’s Man without Qualities begins with
a traffic accident, surely speed is the hero of the stream- of- consciousness
mode of literature, given that certain kinds of thinking are performed, and
quickly, in what William James called “transitive” ways.9
Duffy makes a startling observation in his epilogue: “From the hyper-
bole of the Futurists to the self- conscious brilliance of J. G. Ballard’s Crash,
speed and literature have not suited each other all that well” (271). This
sentiment may account for his sense that “the detective story” is “inherently
antipolitical” (92), that the same genre lacks humor, and that Heart of Dark-
ness “frustrates us [because it] refuses to be a thriller” (93) — all deeply con-
testable statements, though perhaps explicable in light of Duffy’s recurrent
turn to theory as a way of reading the world he seeks to chart. But this will
not do. Speed and literature — high, low, popular, serious, lousy, middlebrow,
or what you will — did and do suit, whether in the form of the manifesto, in
Ballard, or, more recently, in Lydia Davis, Twitterature, and flash fiction. As
Duffy admits, “Speed persists” (272). The problem rests elsewhere. It is a
too-little-remarked fact that Marinetti and his fellow futurist Umberto Boc-
cioni volunteered for service in the First World War for the Lombard Cyclist
Battalion — and when it came time for Boccioni to die in 1916, death came
not by bike or car but by the horse from which he was thrown. It may or may
not be that Boccioni died speedily, but there was no theory in the vicinity at
the time.
Jessica Burstein

Jessica Burstein is associate professor in the Department of English and the

Department of Women Studies at the University of Washington.

DOI 10.1215/00267929-1161435

8Quoted in William C. Carter, Marcel Proust: A Life (New Haven, CT: Yale Uni-
versity Press, 2000), 438.
9 William James, The Principles of Psychology, vol. 1 (New York: Holt, 1890), 243.

Published by Duke University Press