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The End of Conduct: "Grobianus" and the Renaissance Text of the Subject.

Manners today, they say, are not what they used to be. If we follow the story Barbara Correll tells in The End of Conduct: "Grobianus" and the Renaissance Text of the Subject, and if we agree with her that manners have destroyed our physical comfort and freedom, then perhaps we should not see this change as all bad. In Correll's analysis, indeed, "conduct formation . . . is not affirmative and progressive movement toward civility and social consideration; rather civility is unveiled as the product and precipitate of harsh, aversive conditioning in which male subjects cultivate anxieties about the very bodies they inhabit" (7).

However dubious a reader may feel about such a view of civility, he or she can still appreciate Correll's recovery of a part of early modern conduct literature that may be unfamiliar to many English readers: the chain of ironic conduct literature that originated with the publication of Friedrich Dedekind's Grobianus, de morum simplicitate in 1549. This neo-Latin poem is a remarkable - and remarkably gross - "anti-conduct" manual, advocating the most appalling public behavior, including the flaunting of filth, spitting, gleeful self-exposure, and conspicuous nose-wiping. This text was not obscure at the time: Kaspar Scheidt adapted and expanded Dedekind's very popular Latin text in a High German vernacular edition in 1551; in the meantime, Dedekind revised his own book, producing a second (1552) and a third edition (1554), the latter retitled Grobianus et Grobiana and adding advice to women. Grobianus was also translated into English by "R.F." in 1605, and Thomas Dekker borrowed from it for his The Guls Horne-booke in 1609. Correll resuscitates this now mostly forgotten set of texts to analyze the fascinating politics of fashioning the masculine subject through such "aversion therapy," which should control yet inevitably exposes "the raging, delinquent body" (15).

The End of Conduct is divided into six chapters that chart the different Grobianus texts' links to the "history of the body," the politics of vernacular culture, and matters of gender. In chapter one, "Reading Grobianus: The Crisis of the Body in the Sixteenth Century," Correll discusses how her approach, focusing on anxiety and indecency, fits into broader histories of civility and the constitution of the body of the early modern subject. Chapter two, "Malleable Material, Models of Power: Woman in Erasmus's 'Marriage Group' and Good Manners in Boys," presents a perceptive reading of how questions of gender and, in particular, a distaste for "effeminacy," function in humanist conduct literature. Chapter three, "Reading Grobianus: The Subject at Work in the 'laborinth' of Simplicity," examines more closely Dedekind's ironic/aversive technique and his recourse to a constructed "simplicity." In chapter four, Correll discusses the "Grobiana in Grobianus: The Sexual Politics of Civility." Chapter five offers a reading of "Scheidt's Grobianus: Revolting Bodies, Vernacular Discipline, National Character," which considers the implications of translating the Latin poem for an audience of newly defined "Germans." Finally in chapter six, Correll analyzes Dekker's uses of Grobianus in his Guls Horne-booke, where, she argues, he shifts the focus from the horror of bodily excess and display to the horror of capital.

As other scholars have done with similar accounts of civility, Correll situates this history and analysis of the Grobianus phenomenon within the account of Western "civilization" laid out in Norbert Elias's The Civilizing Process, as well as Michel Foucault's investigations of discipline and power and Mikhail Bakhtin's readings of representations of the early modern body and carnival. In this sense, the story she tells is not a particularly new one. However, her work does differ significantly from these other accounts of the social politics of early modern codes of conduct (including those of Frank Whigham and Richard Halpern), because she follows, with great insight, the role of gender in the conduct books' strategies. Her work is also notable for its focus on how the conduct books generate anxiety and "abjection" (in Kristeva's terms) as an essential element of the civilizing process.

REBECCA W. BUSHNELL University of Pennsylvania
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Article Details
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Author:Bushnell, Rebecca W.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1998
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