FORBIDDEN PARTNERS: The Incest Taboo in Modern Culture by James B. Twitchell

FORBIDDEN PARTNERS: The Incest Taboo in Modern Culture

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A broad survey, this book is almost capsized by its weight and range. Admirers of Twitchell's well-received 1985 work, Dreadful Pleasures, may wonder what happened here. The theme is fashionable, and pop and schlock are handled with authority. (Surely no academic press book in recent times has had more footnotes from such as The National Enquirer.) The many Germanisms and the ""taboo"" in the title are clues to the attempt at a Freudian analysis of art and literature. But Twitchell is no Freud of the bayous. A description of a Klee painting is merely funny when Twitchell claims that the image shows ""sexual unease"" because a symbolic ""phallus"" is seen to be ""out of line."" That's not the only thing out of line here: among the other artworks reproduced are far too many by a talentless, gory dauber named Ruppert, definitely psychiatrist's office kitsch; yet they are treated as seriously as the works by Klee and Munch. The reading of the Romantic poets here is unexceptionable, and also unoriginal, but it is with the moderns that the trouble really begins. The cornerstone of Twitchell's book is an analysis of Nabokov's Lolita, both novel and film, which is considered as a turning point in cultural concepts of incest. Perhaps, but the reading offered here is often flat-out wrong, The fallacious notion is offered that Nabokov was somehow out to ""subvert"" American notions of family. And the novel is misread to the extent that it is claimed that Lolita suffered no damage through her mishandling; this is the reverse of what Nabokov states in his book. The critique of the movie is even worse, trashing James Mason's performance, which Nabokov himself delighted in. Unfortunately, this is neither the cogent nor comprehensive book it is presented as; perilously bad on modern art and books, it cannot be called an important contribution.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1986
Publisher: Columbia Univ. Press