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BOOK REVIEWS 435 read comes to have the force of an event” precisely because “learning to read has not yet happened (to ‘me’)” (ill). Marc Redfield Brown University Nancy Yousef. Romantic Intimacy. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013. Pp. 182. $55. Toward the end of her dense and rewarding Romantic Intimacy, Nancy Yousef turns to what we might call the mise en scene of Freudian psycho­ analysis: an office with a couch on which the patient reclines; an analyst sit­ ting behind the patient, tactfully and tactically out ofsight, but never quite out ofmind. For Yousef, the analytic floor plan materializes a complex and at times awkward encounter between vulnerable subjects, one at once carefully stage-managed and riven with contradictions and contingencies. Moreover, it recapitulates a mode of remote proximity that Yousef has traced back to the eighteenth-century occasional encounter, albeit now with more clinical trappings. Freud famously admitted that while he as­ pired to affective neutrality in this clinical setting, he also preferred these particular sightlines due to his own unwillingness “to be gazed at for eight hours a day or more.” At issue here is Freud’s contention that analysis re­ quires the analyst’s surgical dispassion—including putting aside “human sympathy” [menschliches Mitleid]—in order to “ensur[e] a needful protection for the physician’s emotional life and the greatest measure ofaid for the pa­ tient” (qtd. in Yousef, 139-40). Yousef rightly notes that Freud’s justification of scientific and situational detachment both strategically attenuates the role of sympathy in the ana­ lytic scene and reveals “the persistence of conflicting feelings beneath the impenetrable surface of neutrality” (140). The meditation on “sitting with strangers” that closes Romantic Intimacy also expresses something of the study’s methodological tenor: Yousef’s book on intimacy can seem at times paradoxically chilly, formidable in its rigor, but it is necessarily so. It ex­ poses how often Romanticism’s signal moments of ethical encounter are structured by what she calls “intersubjective asymmetries,” a constitutive relationality that persistently stops short of becoming relation. To take the measure of these ethical and affective registers, and to avoid collapsing the whole enterprise back into the easy consolations of sentimentalism, Yousefmust read with such a delicate and exacting touch that it can feel as if she is taking a scalpel to what passes for intimacy. But the critical yield SiR, 54 (Fall 2015) 436 BOOK REVIEWS that derives from such fine-grained practice is substantial, capable of reori­ enting how we understand the ethical coordinates of both Romanticism and its psychoanalytic afterlife. It is clear from the opening pages that Yousef wishes to both contest and work through the ascendency of sympathy in recent accounts of Romantic-era ethics. To look for intimacy where we once focused on sympathy is to “turn the axis of inquiry away from terms such as ‘identi­ fication,’ ‘imitation,’ and ‘recognition,’ all ofwhich presuppose and antici­ pate precisely what is in question: an end or aim—be it perceptual, affec­ tive, or moral—for the contingent, evanescent, multitudinous forms of experience among others” (2). Intimacy can refer to something innermost and personal, as well as something deeply shared with another, and this ca­ pacity to toggle between the irreducibly private and what is judiciously communicated means that the concept never quite stabilizes, never resolves into a critical achievement. Yousef openly worries that scholars have overlooked the skepticism that so often abuts discussions of sympathy in eighteenth-century moral philosophy—“the first generates an excessive anxiety about the accuracy and reliability ofour apprehension ofthings and the second presumes an improbable confidence about our intimacy with other persons” (7)—and as a result we too often wield an understanding sympathy that is overly efficacious. In other words, sympathy should be much stranger and more estranging than it is, for it rarely achieves the mu­ tuality and connectivity to which it aspires. “The humbling of sympathetic presumptions and aspirations for respectful recognition,” Yousef writes of her project, “allows for acknowledgements of dependence that seek no rectification or vindication in reciprocity or equality” (24). Romantic Intimacy understands that such a claim might send a shudder through the so-called “ethical turn” in literary...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2330-118X
Print ISSN
0039-3762
Pages
pp. 435-438
Launched on MUSE
2020-03-13
Open Access
No
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