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BOOK REVIEWS Finally, one extremely useful and unusual feature of this volume, as compared to most such collections, is that it has an index which includes references to the contents of the essays themselves as well as to the editorial matter. Testing it by looking up some topics on which people in an undergraduate class I taught recently were searching for additional information , I found that it would have steered them to discussions of poverty , child labor, the game laws, the Bible, and Ireland, though they would not have found anything on the currently hot topic of imperialism. And it was certainly pleasing to use an index that included entries under "men" as well as under "women" rather than taking "women" as the exception that needs indexing. All in all, The Victorian Age is a fine collection of fairly traditional intellectual backgrounds with the addition of a few pieces applicable to recent investigations of sexuality. "Intellectual" does need emphasizing; there is almost nothing in the way of polemic and none of the legal or parliamentary papers that some of us might expect to find in a volume with "Documents" as part of its title. It could well serve as a useful and dependable source for upper-level and graduate students if only Routledge would produce an edition that anyone could afford to own. Sally Mitchell ______________ Temple University The Idea of Mess David Trotter. Cooking with Mud: The Idea of Mess in NineteenthCentury Art and Fiction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. 340 pp. $50.00 "THE IDEA OF MESS has not attracted a great deal of attention": rarely has understatement achieved its effect so winningly. This idea is an original one, though the author's idea of an idea stands in need of additional scrutiny. To begin with the latter: "By 'idea,' I mean something at once less distinct than a concept and more distinct than an experience : a phenomenology, a way of thinking and feeling, an emergent selfawareness ." This is clearly an idea of "idea" that recommends itself to a certain way of thinking and feeling, a well-known emergent selfawareness , which I forbear to name with currently fashionable terms that are hardly more intelligible than the phenomena they label. This way (or self-awareness) is one for which ideas are less distinct than concepts , though somewhat more distinct than experiences. Writing the history of the idea of mess, for example, as the author proposes to do—or something like it ("I want to give some standing, in discussions of the 225 ELT 44 : 2 2001 history of modern culture, to the 'idea' of mess")—will thus have little in common with other approaches to literary and other ideas, e.g., Primitivism and Related Ideas in Antiquity (Lovejoy and Boas), "The Meaning of a Literary Idea" (Trilling), or "How to Make Our Ideas Clear" (Peirce). The reader inspecting the book's ideas on the idea of mess will accordingly locate them in a zone of distinctness somewhere between concepts and experiences. Definition proceeds here by standard methods of association and discrimination . Observing, with another commentator, that clutter "can be both good and bad," we reach the "distinction between good and bad messes," a distinction central to "mess-theory." These normative terms stand in some relation to a pair earlier proposed: "Illusion-sustaining mess, actual or represented, enables us to understand contingency as the matrix and occasion of an exemplary desire.... Illusion-destroying mess, actual or represented, enables us to understand contingency as the matrix and occasion of an exemplary death: not the death which happens as the outcome of an identifiable sequence of cause and effect, but the death which need not have happened at all, the death which is pure death." Whatever we may think of messes associated with desire and those associated with death—though it must be "pure death"—it seems clear that mess has much to do with contingency. The distinction between the necessary and the contingent being different from that between order and disorder—the proper realm of "waste-theory"—we are invited to suspend resistance to, if not temporarily embrace, the contingent . Discussion of these options owes much to existential thought: Sartre...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 225-228
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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