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Reviewed by:
  • Identification before Freud: French Perspectives
  • Katherine Ibbett
Identification before Freud: French Perspectives. Edited by Joseph Harris. (Special issue of Nottingham French Studies, 47.3 (2008)). Nottingham: University of Nottingham, 2008. 112pp. Pb £20.00; $40.00.

This volume brings together scholars reflecting on a series of metaphors and processes that we today associate with identification. It suggests that the notion of identification and the dynamics to which it refers predate Freud, and points to ways in which we might posit a sustained prehistory of that concept. The volume has all the pleasures of a wide sample of voices. Of course, given the limitations of such an enterprise, the clusters of essays do not provide a certain picture of how we might establish such a historical project, but they do tease out the implications of a number of key early modern terms: sympathy, exemplarity, altruism, suffering, friendship, and so on. A welcome attention to matters of form and style bolsters many of the essays, and the whole is marshalled together with a finely tuned Introduction by Joseph Harris, who talks the reader through some of the pitfalls of such a prehistory: namely, that in casting the prehistory of identification as the baby steps towards ‘real’ Freudian [End Page 382] identification, we might thereby sustain what he terms the ‘intellectual hegemony’ of psychoanalysis (p. 2). For all the introductory caveats, I regretted the essayists’ relative lack of engagement with (and occasional hostility to) the theoretical legacy of psychoanalysis, which in early modern studies can scarcely be termed hegemonic. The essays themselves are organized in small groupings that do much to counteract the standard spottiness that plagues special issues. James Helgeson’s consideration of Renaissance friendship addresses the elaborate distinctions of early modern senses of the self; Michael Moriarty explores the boundaries of that self when the subject is able to pull external objects into his or her self-image. The essays of Larry Norman and Alain Viala both address the relations between galanterie and identification. Viala’s focus on Rousseau is complemented by Harris’s own exploration of the eighteenth-century theatre’s imagining of social unity through spectatorship. Harris’s essay neatly draws a distinction between the particular ways in which we today imagine identification (with a character, for example) and suggests the more complex understandings of such processes operative in early modern thought. Ending on a bold vision of transformation through theatre, it heralds the possibilities of identification before the reader moves on to the nineteenth century and a more jarring and unsettling identificatory mode pinpointed in the three essays on that period: Marina van Zuylen, on Stendhal, speaks of the destabilizations brought about through Julien Sorel’s willed insularity; Miranda Gill discusses the loneliness of Nerval and Baudelaire; and Gretchen Schultz focuses on the sexual politics of male identification with lesbian personas. A final and welcome essay from Sarah Cooper gives an overview of the ways in which identification has been understood since Freud. This volume has many fine essays and will be a useful text for any reader seeking to think more about the ways in which we have historically figured the ties between the self and its others.

Katherine Ibbett
University College London


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pp. 382-383
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