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REVIEWS GERALDINE FRIEDMAN. The Insistence of History: Revolution in Burke, Wordsworth, Keats, and Baudelaire. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1996. xii + 270 pp. THE INSISTENCE OF THEORY In The Insistence ofHistory, Géraldine Friedman reads selected works by Burke, Wordsworth, Keats, and Baudelaire for what she terms the "insistence" ofhistory: "the enigmatic effacement and return ofhistory" (1). Even in their apparent antagonisms , Friedman argues, poststructuralist and historical approaches to literature are interwoven (6). In keeping with an approach which undermines "history" as an unproblematic referent, Friedman eschews texts which directly represent the French Revolutions of 1789 and 1848; instead, she takes British Romantic poetry as her primary corpus, reading it through the theoretical lenses of Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, and particularly Paul de Man. Friedman rejects a reading ofRomanticism as merely an apolitical aesthetic movement. Rather, she considers these works symptomatic ofhistory as the absent presence which structures literary representation . Friedman argues: "revolution cannot be directly written about; it must rather be written around, but, by the same token, not ignored. In short, ifliterature is the impossible witness to history, history functions in these works as literature's missed appointment with a traumatic Real; yet the appointment still remains, ifonly to be missed again and again" (3). With "insistence," then, Friedman attempts to conjugate two currents in contemporary theory: deconstruction's rhetorical emphasis and more recent historicist trends. The book's dominant concept of history, however, remains a deconstructionist one throughout. Despite the introduction's briefreference to current theoretical debates on the problem ofhuman agency after poststructuralism, the unsettling ofmaterial agency implicit in a de Manían reading practice returns to haunt Friedman's discussion. Trained in French and British literary traditions respectively, and having recently completed a team-taught course entitled "The French Revolution in the Cultural Imagination: Eighteenth-Century Britain and France," we approached Friedman's book with interest. Like Friedman, we also tried to unsettle history as an unproblematic referent, despite our students' evident frustration with our deliberately fluid definition of the French Revolution. Student reactions to the course attested both to the power ofthis approach and to its disconcerting effect on their own desire to acquire "knowledge" and "truth." Like Friedman, who extends her investigation to include the repetition ofthe Revolution of 1848, we also looked at the prolongation and recurrence ofrevolution up into the nineteenth century in its different manifestations. Our course was constructed and conceived as a FrenchEnglish dialogue, pairing texts according to genre and period: Locke and Hume with Rousseau; Thomas Jefferson's "Declaration of Independence" with the Constituent Assembly's "Déclaration des droits de l'homme" and Olympe de Gouges's "Déclaration des droits de la femme"; Charles Dickens's Tale ofTwo Cities with Victor Hugo's Ninety-Three (Quatrevingt-treize). This is not Friedman 's approach, however. In The Insistence ofHistory, Baudelaire stands as the single representative ofboth French literature and the Revolution of 1 848. In sum, the essential dialogue in The Insistence ofHistory is not between national literatures , but between poststructuralist textual readings and historical approaches; the core concern is how to theorize history's relation to the literary. Vol. 23 (1999): 160 ??? COHPAnATIST In each ofthe texts under consideration, the introduction informs us, "we begin with a smoothly functioning system," but each system—be it linguistic, political, social, or economic—is ultimately undone by its very conditions ofpossibility (10). In the first chapter, devoted to Edmund Burke's 1 757 aesthetic treatise PhilosophicalEnquiry into the Origin ofOurIdeas ofthe Sublime andBeautiful and 1790 political essay Reflections on the Revolution in France, this system is the body. This often Lacanian reading of Burke's body metaphors deftly relates aesthetics and politics. Pairing these two texts is a canny choice given Friedman's interest in how literary aesthetics are always already implicitly historically freighted. Friedman demonstrates that Enquiry "conceives ofthe aesthetic object as an empirical, integral body, exemplified by feminine beauty, but this conception works against a narrative ofviolent revolution that can be constructed from the text's examples" (7). The corporeal metaphor resurfaces in Reflections, where it is applied to the body politic. Burke figures ancien régime society as an organism whose constituent parts function together in harmony; it...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-0887
Print ISSN
0195-7678
Pages
pp. 160-163
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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