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Bryan Reynolds. Transversal Enterprises in the Drama of Shakespeare and his Contemporaries: Fugitive Explorations.

Bryan Reynolds. Transversal Enterprises in the Drama of Shakespeare and his Contemporaries: Fugitive Explorations. Houndmills and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Pp xi, 271.

One of the thrills of reading early modern English drama or listening to it in performance is witnessing the evolution of a new literary language. Bryan Reynolds' Transversal Enterprises similarly blazes trails through a new linguistic frontier. Reynolds has invented a new lexicon to describe the unique approach to literary, performance, and cultural studies he calls 'transversal theory'. Just as early modern English authors created neologisms by adapting words from other languages, Reynolds adapts terms and ideas from Marxist, deconstructionist, and psychoanalytic theorists. The result is a radical and eminently useful set of new perspectives on early modern drama.

Throughout his work Reynolds contrasts those forces he calls 'state power', which seek to establish order and structure, with the forces of 'transversal power', which seek to destabilize, challenge, or complicate established norms. Though his approach is poststructuralist, he resists the 'nihilism of deconstruction', claiming that transversal theory 'asks that we consider artifacts positively and extensively, rather than define negatively, defer continuously, or dismiss alternative interpretations and applications by relying only on dialectical argumentation' (10). Transversal theory also relies frequently on psychoanalytic and Marxist techniques in its pursuit of an understanding of processual and fluid subjectivity, but Reynolds refuses to 'define desire and subjectivity as predicated on lack', insisting that his is 'not a victim or victim-making approach' (10). Emphasizing the optimism inherent in transversal poetics, he writes that '[t]ransversal theory and methodology are all about potential. They work discursively to empower social identities and groups recognizably striving--conceptually, emotionally, and/or physically--to transcend their subjective territories' (37).

Reynolds dubs the critical practice associated with transversal theory 'fugitive explorations' and cites its defining characteristic as the 'investigative-expansive expansive mode of analysis', which is 'a critical approach that first breaks down the subject matter under investigation into variables and then partitions and examines them in relation to other influences, both abstract and empirical, beyond the immediate vicinity' (40). Some intriguing departures from the dramatic texts under investigation take Reynolds and his collaborators into scientific fields such as evolutionary biology, cognitive neuroscience, and primatology. Popular culture (both early modern and contemporary) also features prominently, whether the fugitive explorers are performing a close reading of the lyrics of a modern rock song, a new film, or a self-help book.

In chapter one Reynolds provides the rationale for transversal theory and describes its key features. Chapter two, co-authored with Janna Segal, begins with a very useful description of the origins of transversal theory. It then offers the first of several examples of an 'articulatory space', defined as 'a discursive interface where symbolic discourses and social performances commingle and are imbued respectively and relationally with meaning' (125). The articulatory space under examination here is the 'Mary/Mollspace' in and around Dekker and Middleton's The Roaring Girl. The authors aptly survey critical approaches to Mary/Moll, placing special emphasis on her 'celebrityness born out of social deviance' (33). They conclude that since the 1980s Mary/Moll has been appropriated as a champion of various causes.

Chapter three, co-authored with Anthony Kubiak, is one of the strongest in the volume. After suggesting that the theatre offers 'an appropriate model for understanding consciousness' because 'consciousness depends on theatricality' and 'the continual framing, unframing and reframing of performances', the chapter focuses on the central role played by deceit in Hamlet. The key interdisciplinary foray here is into the field of primatology. The authors are particularly interested in the theory of 'Machiavellian Intelligence' developed in studies of chimpanzees, bonobos, and baboons, which posits that the larger primate brain evolved so as to be better capable of deceit (79). The authors trace the many varieties of deceit in the play, ultimately suggesting that the play mirrors human consciousness in part because it so artfully and so thoroughly reflects the patterns of human deception.

Chapter four, written by Reynolds and Amy Cook, posits a 'comedic law' which states that doubt and confusion generate comedy by encouraging audience members to indulge in hypothetical vacations from morality. Such excursions were permitted, the authors claim, because they were consistent with the theological precept of 'secundum imaginationem' ('according to the imagination'), which held that it was not heretical to imagine certain types of heterodoxy as long as one did not believe in them. In the brief fifth chapter Donald Hedrick and Reynolds focus on the manner in which place gave way to space during the early modern period. They see the 'embodiment' of this 'historical shift' in Middleton and Rowley's The Changeling (112-3). In chapter six Reynolds and Janna Segal survey interpretive approaches to Romeo and Juliet before suggesting their own materialist interpretation, according to which the play 'works to enunciate the commercial viability of romantic love in Verona (and elsewhere)' (138). The seventh chapter, coauthored with Ayanna Thompson, asserts that Marlowe's Tamburlaine represents the creation of a distinct dramatic genre the authors dub 'post-theater'. The non-naturalistic play 'appropriates antitheatrical terms/perceptions, defies conventional theatre properties (words, action, spectacle, and naturalistic acting), and ironizes the concept of metatheatre' (168).

Chapter eight, a collaboration between Reynolds and Glenn Odom, is one of the book's most fully developed chapters. Its focus is on Shakespeare's Aaron, who the authors assert is less a stock diabolical blackamoor than a provisional, experimental dark-skinned novelty within the developing genre of the early modern revenge tragedy. The authors examine the ways in which other characters respond to Aaron, thereby moving 'across at least one kind of boundary, whether conceptual, subjective, social, cultural, or political, even while they are constrained by others' (183). The key neologism in this chapter is 'pressurized belongings', which the authors define as 'the related and often conflicting processes of assimilation and expulsion by which one becomes a member of an alternative group, subjective territory, or official territory at the expense of one or more of its members' (197). In chapter nine Courtney Lehmann and Reynolds position Webster's Duchess of Malfi in relation to the current vogue for self-help books. They claim that Ferdinand departs from Tony Robbins' style of self-help because 'the goal of standard self-help methodology is to provide agency and reinforce subjectivity at all costs', but 'the objective of Duchess is quite the opposite: to open up what Zizek calls "the Void which 'is' the subject"' (231). Chapter ten is a concise and provocative attempt by Reynolds and Henry Turner to trace the rise of 'homo academicus' and 'academic culture' more generally in early modern England, and the chapter draws analogies between early modern academic culture and our own. The authors claim that the academic culture of sixteenth-century England consisted of 'friars, professors, mathematicians, magicians, astrologers, adepts, and students' who together 'constituted a subnation that illegitimately occupied material and conceptual space within the English nation' (240-1). They compare this subnation to the criminal subculture Reynolds considered at length in Becoming Criminal (2002). Transversal Enterprises concludes with an insightful afterword by Bruce R. Smith which contextualizes Reynolds' theory and comments on the unique form of authorship with which he experiments.

How can we assess this latest installment in Reynolds' collaborative theoretical enterprise? Reynolds and Turner claim that academic discourse needs 'performative transversations' which generate 'the invention of new articulatory spaces, new theoretical languages, and new speaking voices' (245). Judged by this tri-partite evaluative scheme, Reynolds' book is an unqualified success, a tour de force which surveys the sources of state power and the literary, historical, and cultural factors that can destabilize or transform it. Transversal Enterprises succeeds in developing a new theoretical language and in creating new speaking voices. With the exception of the introductory chapter and the afterword, each chapter is bivocal. Sometimes Reynolds' name is listed first on the chapter, sometimes he is listed second, but on each occasion it is impossible to determine where his subjective territory leaves off and that of his collaborator begins. Coauthorship itself is not new, but serial dual authorship of this particular type is novel and potentially groundbreaking within the humanities. Reynolds also cultivates new voices by coauthoring with graduate students as well as with more senior scholars. The collaborative summa that is Transversal Enterprises is a synergistic masterpiece that will lead the way for pioneering theorists for generations to come.
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Author:Cohen, Adam Max
Publication:Early Theatre
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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