In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviews217 transcendentalists, Hansen gets down to business, taking each of his four "men of letters" in turn. He does best by Emerson and Adams, who invite bipolar approaches, worst by Thoreau, whose "doubleness" is not the dualism Hansen seems to take it for, while his chapter on James would have benefited from more consideration of the recent rethinking of pragmatism by Richard Rorty. I also think his book would have been improved not merely in political correctness but in scope and in pertinence by including Margaret Fuller, whose Woman in the Nineteenth Century is open to this sort of approach, as has been demonstrated by Jeffrey Steele in his Representation of tL· Self in the American Renaissance. Curiously, Hansen himself on one occasion (p. 212) places Fuller at the very center of his foursome. He should have followed up his own hint, because it would have further clarified his well-taken point that "transcendentalism in its very essence is a post-Hegelian philosophy: negatively dialectical, intentionally unsystematic, and very much aware of the problem of defining a beginning" (p. 225). Hansen's writing style is refreshingly simple, although this sometimes leads him to sententiousness, as when a chapter begins with the announcement: "In 1876 America celebrated the centenary of its own becoming" (p. 21). But more often it pays off, as in the observation that "there is something about the nineteenth century, a kind of urgency and presence, which makes it difficult to keep one's distance" (p. 214). It is this "something" that Hansen's book comes admirably close to capturing and explaining. University of Canterbury, New ZealandKenneth Marc Harris Theater, Theory, Spéculation: Walter Benjamin and the Scenes of Modernity, by Rainer Nägele; xviii & 232 pp. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991, $32.50. For those academics who remain wary of attempts to draw the line between "post-" and "modernism," Rainer Nägele's rethinking of this problematic distinction should be refreshing: "It is Modernism, not some phantasmatically construed "Postmodernity" or "Poststructuralism," that undertakes the radical critique of modernity" (p. xii). Defining modernity (via Jürgen Habermas's Philosophische Diskurs der Moderne) as the Enlightenment project through which literature has largely been measured by its adherence to "the aesthetic law of harmonious unity and unbroken perfection" privileged by the Romantics, 218Philosophy and Literature Nägele reaffirms the contrary impulse of Modernist literature to undermine "the veil of beauty" through a "tropics of the caesura" (p. xvii). Insofar as Modernism restages the question ofrepresentation through a poetics ofcaesural rupture, it intersects with the critical impulse of philosophical discourse as defined by Walter Benjamin in the Prologue to the Ursprungdes deutschen Trauerspiels . Nägele's book clearly owes its inspiration to Benjamin's study of Baroque drama. Accordingly, his most convincing essays—two of which were previously published elsewhere—articulate correspondences between German Modernism and the implicit critique of modernity in Benjamin's work. Chapter One, "Puppet Play and Trauerspiel," contains a reading of Rilke's antithetical puppet/angel trope prefaced by a discussion of the differences between classical drama and Baroque and Brechtian theater: introducing terms that resonate throughout the book, Nägele distinguishes between classical/symbolic and baroque/allegorical modes of dramatic representation, which diverge most radically on the question of the subject. In Chapter Two, tided "The Marquis de Sade Watches the Scene," Nägele's analysis of Peter Weiss's contemporary play, Marat/Sade, further suggests why the emergence of what Nietzsche called the "purifying eye" must be preceded by the disintegration of the bourgeois "I" through a baroque theatrics ofbodily decay and destruction (p. 30). This leads, in Chapter Three, "Beyond Psychology: Freud, Benjamin, and the Articulation of Modernity ," to the confrontation between the humanistic paradigm of developmental psychology—linked by Nägele to Habermas's Enlightenment model of self-reflexivity—and Freudian psychoanalysis, which has clear affinities with Benjamin's idea of the subject as always marked by an unconscious Other. Of the increasingly theoretical essays that follow—devoted to such topics as Benjamin 's revalorization of allegory and Lukács's concomitant batde against it— I found Chapter Seven on Benjamin and Brecht the most thought-provoking: focusing on the concept ofHaltung (posture...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 217-219
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.