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326Philosophy and Literature and philosophical impulsions. Bowman's series ofessays make an excellent book which should attract those seriously interested in French Romanticism. University of KansasAllan H. Pasco Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture, by Stephen J. Greenblatt; 188 pp. New York: Roudedge, 1990, $25.00. In Learning to Curse, Stephen Greenblatt explains how he came to invent the "new historicism." Although he expresses reluctance to define precisely its characteristics , he nevertheless describes some ofthe practices ofthe new historicism, especially its concern to put the object, literary or artistic, back in touch with its original historical circumstances of "production and consumption and to analyze the relation between these circumstances and our own" (p. 170). This applies as well to Greenblatt's project in this collection of essays and explains his tactic of beginning with an introduction that recalls his own critical origins. Thus the book participates in the autobiographical turn ofmuch recentcriticism. The introduction recounts Greenblatt's early life as a new historicist, beginning with the first uncertain intimations ofdifference at Yale after encountering William K. Wimsatt, and moving through formative experiences at Cambridge, under the spell of Raymond Williams, before proceeding to the discovery of Michel Foucault. There should be no surprises here for anyone familiar with Greenblatt's work, though some may wonder how he retains such obvious admiration for both Williams and Foucault. Perhaps the best part of the introduction is Greenblatt's anecdote about his father's doppelgänger. This vignette , worthy of comparison with Singer's "Getzel the Monkey," confirms Greenblatt's discovery that his identity is bound up with story-telling and writing. After the overt self-representation of the introduction, however, the assorted essays may be somewhat disappointing, though only somewhat, for they continue the story of Greenblatt's life in new historicism by presenting what he himselfdescribes as the "uneven evolution of my critical methods and interests" (p. 3). Learning to Curse—like some of the individual essays—remains too anecdotal to satisfy or explain fully, but it gives us a better knowledge of the critic as writer and storyteller. Even for those who find these tactics precious or tedious, the essays work well together to demonstrate Greenblatt's range. For example, the fascination with boundaries he confesses in the introduction is borne out in the essays. Although sometimes they seem to fasten our attention Reviews327 on the marginal, most of these essays confront major works, but they come at them from some unusual angles: Prospero's treatment ofCaliban in TL· Tempest is approached as an example ofthe European encounter with native Americans; child-rearing techniques of the nineteenth and seventeenth centuries are juxtaposed to offer access to King Lear; Marx's essay "On the Jewish Question" becomes a means of understanding Marlowe's TL· Jew ofMalta; an American anthropologist's reaction to a Zuni ritual involving the ingestion of excrement suggests a commentary on scatological imagery in Rabelais and Martin Luther. Finally, I do not know that we learn very much about the "new historicism" by reading these essays. In fact, the most sustained piece of "new historicist" criticism, "Murdering Peasants: Status, Genre, and the Representation of Rebellion ," which begins with a discussion of Dürer's plans for a "Monument to Commemorate a Victory over the Rebellious Peasants," seems both in tone and content out of place in this otherwise more personal collection. Its sustained use of argument and demonstration, its four-and-a-half pages of learned footnotes , are the trappings of an academic article more than an essay. Even the final two "theoretical" pieces, "Towards a Poetics of Culture" and "Resonance and Wonder," proceed with a lighter tone and contain entertaining and instructive digressions on the execution of Gary Gilmore and Greenblatt's own reactions to the State Jewish Museum in Prague. This may seem a peculiar endorsement of Horace, but Greenblatt begins his collection by reminding us of the importance of "literary pleasure" for "historical understanding" (p. 9). Thus whether or not we discover anything new about the "new historicism" by reading these essays, we are likely to find that Greenblatt's talents as writer and storyteller are formidable indeed, and that they often lead...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 326-327
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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