Households of the Soul.
The first thing to say about this book is that it is amazingly fluent and reads not effortlessly, for it requires great strenuousness, but as though the writer had every aspect of his topic firmly thought out, so that it issues forth in a consistent stream with the sense that a lot more could be said on each and every aspect of the subject, and with plenty more examples. It does not come across as the work of a specialist, but as that of a generalist who really can handle much disparate material. The book contains very rereadable pages on different nineteenth-century adventure narratives such as those of Tennyson's 'Ulysses', Rider Haggard's She, Lord Jim, The Lost Girl, Ulysses, and A Rebours, and detailed attention to sundry theorists starting chronologically with Aristotle and continuing with Hegel (though Mauss and Bataille are at the centre of the book's thesis) along with Adorno and Veblen, and Fustel de Coulanges (the first time I have seen him discussed, other than by Benjamin in the 'Theses on the Philosophy of History'). Then there are another half-dozen nineteenth-century anthropologists and cultural historians who all seem to be intimately part of Vincent Pecora's research.
These reference-points, plus others, fold into an intricate thesis, which starts from Weber's disenchanted modern and capitalized world, and the desire to 're-enchant' the world by reference back to a pre-capitalist, noble household, whose dealings are organized not round market forces but through patron-client relationships. The European modern bourgeois household is perceived in this drive as feminized, and the rhetoric of the noble household, masculine and heroic (compare Yeats's 'A Prayer for My Daughter', which Pecora discusses) dovetails with imperialism, itself partly enabled by new professional anthropology. The first part of the book argues that the aspiration after the noble household is not simply nostalgia but opportunist, showing itself in nineteenth-century narratives and in modernism. In all this, Pecora is perceptive and illuminating: on the Gothic novel, for its relationships between the noble house and the uncanny; on Raymond Williams; on the figure of the sorcerer within modernism; on magical belief as the source of rational concepts (so Durkheim); on anthropological specialists within nineteenth-century narratives; on the relation between modern aesthetics and the primitive; on modern literary language's 'attempts to free signification from more confining [...] social codes and structures [that] reproduce a deeply inscribed Western vision of anthropological otherness as enchanted source' (p. 165).
In the second part, Pecora turns his attention to literary theory, via Marx and Nietzsche, who supplies his title (it comes from Beyond Good and Evil, section 20, where philosophy's discovery of new concepts always returns it to 'a remote, primordial and inclusive household of the soul, out of which those concepts grew originally. [...] Philosophising is [...] a kind of atavism'). The Nietzschean ethos of the noble master leads to discussion of Mauss, Bataille, Levi-Strauss, Lacan, and Derrida on the gift. Pecora sees this emphasis as 'romantic' (the term is frequently repeated), and producing a romantic literary theory. The noble household becomes a 'household of the soul, [...] a nobility of soul, a moral demeanour' (p. 229) in the modern age and in literary theory. Pecora is hard on a romanticism within Heidegger's es gibt as this is adopted by Derrida in Given Time, and he says Derrida misreads Mauss on the gift economy (pp. 271-72). The implications of these pages go beyond a review, except that I question Pecora's reading and assimilation of Deleuze and Guattari to the critique (p. 275). A nicely judged last page discusses Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven in relation to the ideology promoted by the sovereign ethic. I have many questions about the overall sufficiency of the thesis, but I am also sure that its detail is unlimitedly fascinating.
<ADD> JEREMY TAMBLING UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG </ADD>
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|Publication:||The Modern Language Review|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jul 1, 1999|
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