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Comparative Drama inclusion; but for anyone interested in contemporary developments in subversive comedy. Acrobats of the Soul is a perceptive survey of the most current generation in a long line of clowns stretching from Aristophanes to Dario Fo. JAMES FISHER Wabash College Bennett Simon. Tragic Drama and the Family: Psychoanalytic Studies from Aeschylus to Beckett. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1988. Pp. xiii + 274. $30.00. Slender volumes with sweeping generalizations tend to be suspect in modem academia. Furthermore, interdisciplinary studies, though much cherished in theory, are much lamented in practice. Only rarely can any scholar expect to know enough to bring genuine insights to more than one field of inquiry. Thus, we can only gasp at Bennett Simon's audacious exploration of the nature of tragedy and the family through the ages, using the tools of both psychiatry and literary criticism. Fortunately, he brings to this formidable task a well-stocked mind, a knowledge of languages, a wide knowledge of drama, a love of literature, and a willingness to balance critics' views against his·own reading and experience. (Dr. Simon is a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School and is a training and supervising analyst at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute.) His life-long interest in tragic drama, his research for a section on tragedy in his first book, Mind and Madness in Ancient Greece, and his participation in scholarly programs on psychoanalysis and the humanities all prepared the way for this new volume. His method, which is interesting and varied, is responsive to the artifacts and the ideas under consideration, changing with each author. He cites specific plays and specific scenes as evidence for his generalizations , and argues a number of ideas convincingly. Comfortable with languages, he includes some of his own translations of the texts. When they seem valuable, he introduces terms from psychiatry-such as "patterned misunderstanding"-to enrich the discussion. Perhaps his best quality is his open and inquiring mind. "Theory is best," he says in conclusion, "whenit informs but also fails to inform; as such it generates puzzles that in tum can lead to new observations, new constructions, new theories" (p. 263). He certainly succeeds in raising questions, challenging the reader to arrive at new constructions and new theories-which may not necessarily coincide with his. Although the writing often has the clumsy repetitious quality of didactic speech rather than the more polished style of the essay, the ideas draw the reader on. From the Orestia to Endgame, Simon finds evidence to substantiate his thesis that "tragic drama is about destructive conflict within the family, that the deeds triggering the conflict are often done in the name of preserving the house and yet may ruin the house ...tt (p. 7). Willing to challenge his own views, he uses Medea's sacrifice Reviews 385 of her children and Macbeth's childlessness as evidence of his thesis in a subtle and complex argument. Scholars will quarrel with a number of Simon's views. He assumes. for instance, that he knows the nature of Euripides' mode of creativity as well as Beckett's and O'Neill's. In addition, his approach to the characters in O'Neill's A Long Day's Journey into Night is a blending of facile judgments that seem unworthy of a. man who takes analysis seriously. One might argue with his use of the "endopoetic" approach in O'Neill, where he insists that the author invites the analysis of the characters. But by use of much the same technique, he brings real light to bear on the study of Samuel Beckett. Although here too he analyzes the man through his writing and his biographies rather than face-to-face, he reveals some ideas about pre-natal experience that could, in part, explain Endgame. He is a superb synthesizer and evaluator of ideas. The list ·of sources is impressive as is his use of them. The book demands attention and constant interaction with Simon's challenging ideas. Literary critics will find the final chapter interesting as a summary of his three major sources of psychoanalytic theories: Freud, Kohut, and Erikson. From Freud, he draws a portion...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 385-387
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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