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Trauma and Transformation: The Political Progress of John Bunyan.

Trauma and Transformation: The Political Progress of John Bunyan. Edited by Vera J. Camden. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008. xiv+ 186 pp. $55.00 cloth.

As befits a volume of essays derived from an academic conference, we meet, in this stimulating collection on John Bunyan, a variety of Bunyans and of Bunyan-esque concerns, anxieties, desires, strategies, reprehensions, troubles, neuroses, and transformations. Also on show here are various disciplinary interests and methodological approaches. A team of distinguished scholars has produced a lively volume, and the Bunyans that they've sent forth, or let loose, will assuredly be accorded interested reception by early modernists. The volume, for example, gives us a mature Bunyan very sure of his place in two metaphysically unequal, conjugal worlds (one, seemingly, to be suffered with few companionable benefits of"real" value in a fleshly and legal here and now and the other to be enjoyed in the hereafter by way of eternal union with the heavenly Christ) and a younger Bunyan, the subject of a confessedly "speculative" psychoanalytical inquiry, who lacks all semblance of assurance and stability in troubling religious, political, military, and familial domains. The Bunyan who lives a profoundly personal spiritual life, in the nurturing of which not even a wife may offer estimable contributions, presents himself as far less aloof in other chapters, wherein we encounter Bunyans deeply involved in contemporary forms of communal devotion and keenly appreciative of, and sensitive to, the sexual politics and idioms of the day. Called forth in one chapter, moreover, is a Bunyan whose soteriology takes a paradoxical departure from conversionary possibilities attendant upon the sexual punning of"bawdy" wordplay, while in another there emerges an "antinomian" Bunyan who, careful to distinguish his own praxis from that of law-renouncing libertines, formulates a soteriology centered in theological discrimination of law and grace, of punitive bondage and merciful liberty. And the Bunyan who, in single-minded pursuit of Christ, assimilates the fleshly and the worthless--with distinctly unsociable consequences--mingles uneasily in these pages with a Bunyan thinking politically and pastorally, who understands that bodily flesh, although corruptible and liable to be tempted and bewitched, may nevertheless perform the significant function of serving notice to the world of sectarian holiness, revealing to citizens and magistrates a sanctified face of godly sociability. But this is a raw and vulnerable holiness, as a chapter on "Bunyan's women" makes plain: to ignore the flesh-and-blood women in Bunyan's life is to overlook elemental experiences of the writer and his world, to "run the risk in general of reducing or displacing the anxieties and tensions found in his writing," thereby losing sight "of just how complex relations between the sexes might be, during those times when being spiritual often meant ... being embarrassing in public" (80). Vera Camden, Margaret Ezell, Thomas Luxon, Michael Davies, Roger Pooley, and Sharon Achinstein focus in particular ways upon the themes announced in the title; Bunyan's several traumas and transformations are addressed with fruitful--and sometimes daringly imaginative--results. And the "political" experience of the subtitle is treated with purposeful multidimensionality, granting the contributors scope to deliver a volume richly stocked with interdisciplinary application. One reservation may be tabled: Peter Rudnytsky's piece seems to be positioned as a context-setting opener, and yet, curiously, Bunyan is conspicuously absent from its provocative evocation of the mid-seventeenth century's dissociation of sensibility, cast here as a Freudian crisis for the nation's collective mind (upon which David Norbrook offers incisive critical commentary), so that while Milton, Marvell, Winstanley, and Harrington dominate Rudnytsky's field of vision, the reader is left to ponder the ways in which Bunyan's emotional make-up negotiates the broken world of his early adulthood. That said, Bunyan's struggles within his world are given vivid portrayal as the essayists hone in on their subject, whose "progress" occasions some agreeable stirring of the scholarly pot.

doi: 10.1017/S0009640709991557

David Parnham

Victoria, Australia
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Author:Parnham, David
Publication:Church History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2010
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