Two cheers for hypocrisy in this thoughtful but overdone and overlong celebration of shame. While not breaking substantially...


SAVING FACE: The Politics of Shame and Guilt

Two cheers for hypocrisy in this thoughtful but overdone and overlong celebration of shame. While not breaking substantially new ground, psychoanalyst Schneiderman (Jacques Lacan not reviewed, etc.) argues cogently for the social value of what he calls ""shame culture . . . a uniform code of conduct to promote civility, propriety, dignity, integrity, and honor."" Shame culture demands strict adherence to a societal norm, and the individual is socialized to protect the group's honor through appropriate behavior. This is as opposed to guilt culture, in which the individual's behavior is self-determined, although it is controlled through a system of laws and punishment. Using Japan as his model of shame culture par excellence, he shows how shame promotes societal good, whether it be in marriage, as a psychoanalytical tool, or in business. And he takes America to task for what he terms ""The Great American Cultural Revolution""--jilting shame in favor of the subtle, corrupting blandishments of guilt. Obviously, he has the foundation of a valid point, but using the narrow polarity of shame and guilt as an explain-all ultimately cramps his analysis as he twists and turns to force the data into his paradigm. While he recognizes some of shame's limits--its anti-individualism, its scanting of art and creativity--he is all too dismissive of guilt's virtues. Nor does he properly consider the dialectical possibilities of a culture drawing on the strengths of both guilt and shame. More seriously, he neglects perhaps the most significant single indictment of shame: that two of the world's ""greatest"" shame cultures, Germany and Japan, were also responsible for some of this century's greatest atrocities. Without the emergency brake of the individual guilty conscience, corrupt and perverse social norms can all too easily take hold and sprout their flowers of evil. Some intriguing insights, but Schneiderman is guilty of mantling a core of good sense with both the unnecessary and the unexamined.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996


Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1995