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REVIEWS James R. Kincaid. Child-Loving: The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture. New York and London: Routledge, 1992. xi + 413. $35.00 U.S. (cloth). Commentators on academia have recently begun to note the incipient death of the scholarly monograph. The natural market for the monograph, after all, is the university library; and it appears that library funds now go less and less on books, more and more on equipment and periodicals. To merit publication, then, today's academic book must represent what is generally termed "a new kind of scholarship," one that appeals across fields, across disciplines, and if possible across professions as well. But it's hard to please all the people all the time, and this kind of versatility may alienate its primary audience even while it attracts a wider circle of readers. James Kincaid's latest study, Child-Loving: The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture, provides an excellent example of this New Scholarship in action. First, it is highly inclusive, bringing out for our inspection a variety of texts from Alice in Wonderland to early twentieth-century comic strips to evidence from the 1987-90 McMartin Pre-School child abuse trial in Los Angeles. In methodology, too, it seeks to provide something for everyone, combining historicism with the ahistorical theoretical tools of psychoanalysis and "a home-version form of deconstruction" (3). The tone is one of almost aggressive friendliness: first-person pronouns abound, metaphors color almost every page, and the overarching question ultimately shifts from the psychiatrist's "What makes you say that?" to the play-group leader's "What would it be more fun to say?" (359). Such prose encourages the pleasant sensation of being an insider; more ego-delighting still, it turns out that the "Victorian culture" we are asked to inspect is not primarily that of nineteenth-century Britain, but of late-twentieth-century North America. As Kincaid explains, he is "less interested in reconstructing the Reviews55 past than in examining what our methods of reconstruction might tell us about our own policies" (4). Intoxicating as all this may be, however, many readers will inevitably refuse to succumb. The principal sticking-point is likely to be Kincaid's central thesis: that the child is constructed so as to make its eroticism necessary and the image of the erotic child central and not marginal to our culture; that our denial of this positioning is itself a form of erotic doublespeak; that power's specific maneuverings in this area are dangerous and cruel; and that we might, finally, refigure in some way these issues so as to give us and our children a little relief. (363) More specifically, what Child-Loving asks us to "refigure" includes our conception of the pedophile (not a threatening male stranger but a gentle friend of either gender), our understanding of adult-child relationships (damaging insofar as they are disciplinary, healthy insofar as they are physically affectionate, perhaps even when the affection is demonstrated in sexual terms), and — especially — our construction of the figure of the child. Because Victorians of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries alike have insisted on the child's sexual innocence and otherness, Kincaid argues, we are the more convinced of its essential eroticism. The monstrous pedophile of our stereotype does not exist: we have created him to mask the awareness that we are he. While these hypotheses certainly succeed in their aim of provoking readerly response, the sweeping inclusiveness of Kincaid's study often poses problems. His critique of our own culture, for instance, only infrequently acknowledges that pedophiliac acts may sometimes injure the child, or that children may not invariably wish to initiate sexual activity with adults. Since all cultural or even personal protest on this point becomes its own opposite, there seems little room here for the child who has not somehow "asked for it," whether "it" is a caress or a spanking (here defined as our means of "keeping desire at a healthy level" [249]). In Kincaid's scheme, pedophilia occurs because the child is "always already" an empty signifier into which we may project our desire — yet he notes that it occurs especially within the child's own family, which should surely...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 54-58
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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