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246Reviews in Tolchin's book occurs in his afterword, a final chapter in which for a moment he notes that Melville's grief turned into social comment. But that is as close as we come to breaking out of the stifling, claustral innerness and idiosyncrasy to which Melville's energetically social and metaphysical art is reduced. The result is that though Mourning, Gender, and Creativity is a small book, it is tedious, for every chapter reproduces exactly the same dimension as every other. As for method, there is the usual procedure of such criticism: the maybe, the could have been, the must have been, the might have been, the perhaps, all so prevalent, invisibly undergo a metamorphosis into was, as though the dogma has become fact upon which reading is based. There is the usual wrenching of any given word or event into the dogma. Every little breeze seems to whisper "gender transformation," or "conflicted bereavement," or "blocked grief." There is the usual name-game. Tolchin begins with Mardi's Babbalanja as Babb-A//tf«-ja (pp. 49, 59, 62, 69, 71, 73, 83, 125, and 165 offer a few of the examples that, if you are not a fellow ideologue, and according to your temperament, will amaze or amuse). If one is a fellow ideologue, Tolchin's book is a careful plotting of a psychoanalytic hypothesis. If one is not, the book is outrageous in method and reductive in effect but still a careful plotting of psychoanalytic hypothesis. That is its strength within its weaknesses. The book is not helped by the fact that in this case Yale University Press did a sloppy job of bookmaking, even in the poor page design that—as on p. 7, for example—confuses the reader for lack of enough white space between subsections. There could not have been much careful copy-editing at the Press (which insists on new MLA style even to such barbarisms as "Typees's"), for the book is chockfull of awkwardness in the nature, number, and method of omnibus footnotes; it is full of bad sentences; and it is full of bad punctuation. Clearly, Tolchin worked hard on this book, and since Yale decided that it was worth publishing, it should have decided that it was worth publishing carefully and well. University of ConnecticutMilton R. Stern Shulman, Robert. Social Criticism and Nineteenth-Century American Fictions . Columbia: Univ. of Missouri Press, 1987. 326 pp. Cloth: $30.00. Near the end of the "Preface" of Social Criticism and Nineteenth-Century American Fictions , Robert Shulman announces that "without simplifying or talking down I try to speak to the needs of the classroom and across disciplinary lines to those with common interest in and out of the university" (p. x). This announcement is surprising given its context, following as it does Shulman's explanation of the theoretical bases for his readings of classic texts of American literature. These sources include Antonio Gramsci, whose theory of cultural hegemony provides the essential framework for all of Shulman's interpretations, Raymond Williams, who refines Gramsci's theory in Marxism and Literature, C. B. Macpherson, whose concept of "possessive individualism" is used by Shulman as a synonym for capitalism, Karl Marx and George Lukacs, who developed ideas on the dehumanizing effects of commodification and reification on society and culture, and Alexis de Tocqueville, who discusses the potential for alienation inherent in American individualism in his Democracy in America. Shulman proposes to use these concepts to delineate tensions, such as that between democratic ideals and capitalism, which cause fragmentation in society and self that is reflected in the best of our literature, and yet the most imminent threat to Shulman's work is the fragmenting conflict between theory and practice that seems to be at the heart of this book. It is, ultimately, a conflict that Shulman confronts and masters through a theoretically-based, practical criticism that takes for its subject the literature itself rather than the theory that provides him with an interpretive tool. In this sense, Shulman's use of Marxist theory as a critical implement permits him to avoid in his own interpretations the pitfalls he identifies in post-modern practice : "Under the guise...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 246-248
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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