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Schneider wants ""to call attention to a disvalued dimension of human experience--shame and the sense of shame"" which, he believes, has suffered to our detriment by an outlook skewed to ""rationalism, science, and individualism."" We must, in his view, revive a sense of shame ""as a drama to be enacted"" rather than yield further to those who perceive it as ""a problem"" to be overcome, lest the undermining of human values and dignity worsen. His hypothesis about ""the positive function of shame"" is ""intentionally broad in its claims""; and these claims have a strongly didactic character. He holds to his purpose even when it requires some amount of twisting, stretching, and simplifying to make his sources conform. For example Nietzsche, in his rigorous dialectical manner--which alternately appears to affirm or deny Schneider's thesis--has much to say about shame. But it is dubious, in the context of calling the meager communicative power of words as compared with great music ""shameless,"" that he means to suggest the tepid moral Schneider derives. Nor would Nietzsche endorse the unqualified belief here ascribed to him that art, because of (in Schneider's words) the ""reticence intrinsic to its nature,"" ought not seek to ""penetrate, uncover, and go beyond the surface"" of its material. In Schneider's occasionally imprecise lexicon, virtuous shame, ""mother of the blush,"" and reticence become near-synonyms, as do other ""inner connected"" words (like modesty, privacy, discretion, scrupulousness, etc.). But he also makes valuable distinctions, for instance, between reflexive and volitional shame (the one being essentially emotional, the other ethical). Schneider has, withal, discovered an important, relatively unmined, and fascinating subject. The impressive, almost staggering, array of sources on which he draws for his essay--antiquity, philosophy, religion, linguistics, psychoanalysis, art, etc.--will greatly facilitate future efforts to achieve a more cogent morphology of shame and its role in our lives.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1977
Publisher: Beacon