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Reviews From Tillyard to Foucault: Power and Contemplation in Spenserian Pastoral KENNETH BORRIS John D. Bernard. Ceremonies of Innocence: Pastoralism in the Poetnj of Edmund Spenser Cambridge University Press 1989. ix, 242. US $39.50 John D. Bernard's project has larger significance than his subject, contemplative developments in Spenserian pastoral, may at first suggest. He positions his inquiry in relation to trends in New Historicist criticism so as to expose some reductive tendencies ofits practitioners. Not that Bernard opposes New Historicism perse. His critique depends theoretically on citing the recent work of Louis Adrian Montrose on the conditional latitude of the Elizabethan subject against the relative cultural determinisms of earlier Montrose and Stephen Greenblatt. Bernard thus joins the growing reaction against American New Historicist representations of power as a monolithic dominance that recuperates all gestures ofdifference and dissent. In this scenario, Renaissance pastoral has been reified as 'the pastoral of power,' reducing the literary poet-shephard to, in Bernard's phrase, a 'literal sheep.' He argues that a literary career 'amounted to more than a well-dissembled exercise in the pursuit of reflected power/ though that scarcely seems anticipated by some of the less subtle New Historicists. Despite their disdain of the 'old' historicism, certain failings of the putatively senescent forebear sometimes reappear in the new critical mode. Whereas literature had too often been set over against a simplistically conceived cultural 'background,' it can now appear in another Procrustean form delimited by the 'context' of hegemonic power. New Historicists tend to deride Tillyard's limited notions in The Elizabethan World Picture, without acknowledging that Foucault, in many ways patron of their enterprise, defines the dominant ideology of the period in just as absolute terms. In describing the Renaissance Episteme, Foucault ignores marginal alternatives such as Epicurean atomism. Bernard contributes to current historicist debate in showing how strategically important the contemplative aspect of Renaissance pastoral could be for its treatment of authority and power relations_ We have long known that the contemplative life, in a broad sense, was a main resource of pastoral thematics. Bernard argues that it provided some ethical and spiritual ground for the poet's UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 60, NUMBER 4, SUMMER 1991 508 KENNETH BORRIS authority and prestige from classical pastoral onward, and thus enabled some detachment or independence from conventional orders of dominance within the socio-political hierarchy. Surveying Spenser's career, Bernard claims that Spenser himself increasingly turns from the publicly oriented pastoral of power in his early Shepheardes Calendar to locate value less with national authorities and potential than with the inner resources of the self. Spenserian texts become sweepingly tinged by the contemplative pastoral mode. In a graceful, witty, clear-headed manner, Bernard learnedly analyses the historical and literary contexts of contemplative pastoralism, then chronologically explores its influence on Spenser's oeuvre. His sensitive and revealing discussions will prove stimulating for study ofRenaissanc.e pastoralists generally, and he .commendably ensures that his argument engages some leading related theoretical issues. Some cavils remain. Bernard's approach is generic, yet, aside from studies of pastoral itself, it regrettably ignores genre theory. For example, Alastair Fowler's Kinds ofLiterature provides terminology that would have enabled subtler discriminations in dealing with generic mixtures. Without such linguistic and conceprual resources, Bernard's interpretations tend to miss or misrepresent generic nuances by absorbing them into his focal concern with pastoral. The Edenic festivities in book I of The Faerie Queene become simply a 'pastoral of erotic fulfillment' though apocalyptically influenced and located atanurban court. The 'erotic woods and sea' become simply 'pastoral settings/ though more obviously germane to the mise en scene of romantic epic. The language of Bernard's analyses often insufficiently reflects his actual recognition that The Faerie Queene is generically complex. And some readers will wish that more had been done with the contemplative subject. The beatus ille tradition, explored by Maren-Sofie R.0stvig's The Happy Man, is unmentioned though relevant. The feminine symbolic cynosures of Spenser's pastorals, such as Rosalind, Pastorella, and the Fourth Grace, receive quite cursory analysis, even though they are the contemplative foci. Further exploration of Christian Platonism would have been revealing, along with more thorough...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 507-508
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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