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REVIEW ESSAYS chines": they do not fully "explain" or organize the "white noises" produced and ceaselessly reproduced by the media, but assimilate and continue this reproduction. Needless to say, we are dealing with repetition, reinforcement of former structures, and critique thereofin the narrative representation—and performance—ofthis cultural cycle. It seems to me that Johnston is aware ofboth aspects or moments. This critical awareness results in one of the best books on postmodern fiction since similar works in the early 1990s by (among others) Paul Maltby, Brian McHaIe, Linda Hutcheon, Patrick O'Donnell, N. Katherine Hayles, and Scott Bukatman. Christian MoraruUniversity ofNorth Carolina, Greensboro REVIEWS VALERIA WAGNER. Boundto Act: Models ofAction, Dramas ofInaction. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1999. xi + 275 pp. This study privileges the first term in its subtitle; it is mainly a philosophic ramble that ends with speculation about contemporary power politics. Secondarily it offers readings ofselected dramas from Greek antiquity (Aeschylus), the English high and late Renaissance (Marlowe, Shakespeare, Milton), Romanticism (Shelley), and before and after World War II (Giraudoux, Beckett). In effect, the literary works are chosen as ancillary evidence to support an implicit metanarrative to which the stellar contributors are various philosophers. While Aristotle and St. Paul figure as key guides in anticipation ofthe Renaissance plays, and Locke and Kant do extensive service to get us past the turn into subjectivism, a medley of twentieth-century names makes up the bulk ofthe thinkers and theorizers invoked by Wagner. Rather little detail is given regarding the then-contemporary thought from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century surrounding and impregnating the older playwrights in their own times in ways and degrees that merit assessment. Hence the plays, to those who can readily hear many other matters raised in them, will sometimes seem diminished , drained of their full substance, in Wagner's account. The detail starts to proliferate and exfoliate with respect to the twentieth century, yet often the process seems largely additive, as ifprompted at least in part by a desire to cite as many of the usual latter-day theorizing academics as possible. The looping back at the close ofthe book for reminders ofhow a Marlowe, a Shakespeare, and other older playwrights dealt with agency and action vaguely legitimates the twentieth-century theorists as protagonists in a shadowy story of the ages; a revenant Geistesgeschichte is covertly or unwittingly allowed to express itselfthrough their utterances. Thus readers who are not principally motivated to wonder how Austin, Wittgenstein , Bakhtin, Baudrillard, or Sloterdijk can be invoked to discuss questions of agency or to speculate on the postmodern sociopolitical horizon may (using the helpful index) want to cherry-pick the segments that are concerned directly with the plays. In the reviewer's estimation, the Waitingfor Godot commentary (ch. 6) is the strongest and most suggestive. The Faustus commentary (ch. 1) is the weakest, ignoring many symbolic registers such as the sacramental, and failing to take account ofpossible conflicts between a (Lutheran) Protestant ethos, most likely manipulated by Marlowe and his more radical Renaissance ideas. The emphasis on a dialectic between engagement and contemplation in the Hamlet commentary (ch. 2) is accuVoI . 25 (2001): 164 ??? COHPAnATIST rate and productive in many respects. However, in mainly reiterating or paraphrasing Hamlet's own insights, Wagner does not bring to bear the rich dramatic context ofthe times, the tradition created by the works ofLope de Vega, Rotrou, and many other Baroque playwrights in which role and self, playing actor and spectating mind can and do merge. Hamlet's breakthrough to commitment indeed raises haunting questions about human experience, and we cannot evade the complexity of his achieved stature, not just because Fortinbras recognizes him as a genuine prince worthy offull military honors, but because Hamlet consciously stands as an interpretive intermediary between all levels and conditions ofhis world. Although Wagner mentions providence as a concept Hamlet recognizes (90), she never entertains the possibilty that Hamlet becomes authentic—and emerges as an early-modern archetype—when he achieves "readiness" through faith. The Samson Agonistes and Prometheus Unbound commentaries (ch. 4) are reasonable for the most part in approximating the hypothetical model "tension" to fit Milton's and Shelley's respective protagonists. There are many good...


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pp. 164-166
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