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  • Paranoia and Modernity: Cervantes to Rousseau
  • Samuel Glen Wong
John Farrell . Paranoia and Modernity: Cervantes to Rousseau. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006. x + 342 pp. index. $35. ISBN: 0-8014-4410-4.

This ambitious study traces the workings of paranoia through a dizzying variety of texts, not only "Cervantes to Rousseau," but Sophocles to Pynchon, including detailed readings of the Gawain Poet, Luther, Bacon, Descartes, Hobbes, Pascal, Leibniz, Locke, Pope, Swift, and Hemingway. The remarkable range of readings can be explained by the expansive definition of paranoia proposed: for Farrell is interested not only in representations of the classical symptoms of paranoia — suspicion, grandiosity, persecutory delusion — but in what he calls its "metaphorical extension" (5) observed in writers (think of Freud or Foucault) who attempt "to undermine our ability to distinguish our thought from coherent delusion or manipulative contrivance" (5). These canny ironists of paranoia are as important to his history as the writers who represent or, as in his exemplar Rousseau, embody the psychological tendencies we have come to call paranoia. On this last, it is worth noting that Farrell is well aware that the term paranoia emerged long after the period of his chief concern, but for him the anachronism is merely apparent: the emergence of a clinical term, he argues, only made more prominent a far older complex of symptoms. Two aspects of paranoia dominate his study: suspicion, and the complex struggle over the meaning and limits of human agency. Among the panoply of paranoiac symptoms and obsessions, suspicion and the struggle over agency are, for Farrell, keynotes in the development of a modernity that we can understand only when placed in its proper historical context.

Farrell pursues the terms of his study, as I have said, through an array of writers, and readers will find themselves by turns sympathetic or resistant as their [End Page 1255] knowledge allows. Choosing two writers with whose work I am familiar, Bacon and Hobbes, may suggest the strengths and weaknesses of the whole. In Bacon's desire to free natural philosophy from scholastic confusions and common faults of perception and understanding, Farrell says of Bacon "suspicion becomes . . . his crucial resource" (94). He argues further that the reformation of religion (considered in an earlier chapter on Luther), provided Bacon with a model for grandiose rethinking of entrenched traditions of authority and knowledge. Here, then, are two defining traits of the paranoiac worldview converging in a definitive project of early modernity. Yet is the application of the term to Bacon just? The ambition and renovation of Bacon are undeniable (though, of course, there are other tendencies, intellectual, psychological, and political, at work), but even if we allow, as Farrell does, that it is the project, not its author, to which the term must be ap-plied — he names it Bacon's "science of suspicion" — the terms strike one still as overwrought, even misleading. Baconian "suspicion" only seems to add a level of depth and disturbance to a program that, for all its grandiosity and determined rejection of tradition, is more practical than pathological. Baconian suspicion — so darkly hinting — might more justly be called Baconian skepticism.

Put another way, terms like paranoia or suspicion seem to demand some kind of application, not only to the writings but to the writer, to require for their full force a more telling continuity between author and text. And it is just this kind of continuity we see everywhere in Hobbes. In an analysis that stands, with the readings of Luther and Rousseau, among the strongest in the book, Farrell examines Leviathan as the masterwork of a philosopher who described himself, nicely enough for Farrell's purpose, as born into the world, in the wake of the Armada, as a twin with fear. For Hobbes, fear, and the suspicion it bred, were not only aspects of his nature but woven into the fabric of his political philosophy, and Farrell does a marvelous job teasing out the implications of this quality (or, one is tempted to say, psychosis) of his work. In Hobbes, Farrell finds an ideal subject who allows him to follow the paths of paranoia, in writing and writer, in a richly nuanced way...


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Archived 2009
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