A FUTURE FOR ASTYANAX: Character and Desire in Literature by Leo Bersani

A FUTURE FOR ASTYANAX: Character and Desire in Literature

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In Racine's Andromache, the heroine saves her son, Astyanax, from the murderous victors of the Trojan war by consenting to marry Pyrrhus, a disobedient, lustful enemy hero. Leo Bersani, chairman of the French Department at Berkeley, interprets this illicit exchange of favors as an allegory of psychological liberation: in abandoning their former loyalties, Andromache and Pyrrhus assured ""a future for Astyanax"" freed from the psychological constraints and ""formulas of desire"" that they had known. Allying himself loosely with critics of psychoanalysis like Norman O. Brown, Marcuse, and Laing, Bersani celebrates this liberation as ""a psychology of. . . desublimated desires,"" which he sets against the repressive ideal of controlled and coherent personality that ""has been a constant in Western culture."" Bersani exemplifies his theory with two sets of imaginative writings. The first, drawn from Racine, Flaubert, Stendhal, James, Lawrence, and miscellaneous Realists, dramatizes conflicts between passions and the ""limiting structures"" of sublimation. The second set, including works of Lautrèamont, Emily Bronte, Rimbaud, Artaud, Robert Wilson, and the pornographic Story of O and L'Image, exhibits ""the deconstructed self"" that defeats sublimation. Bersani intends his criticism to encourage a ""psychic mobility"" beyond ""the tyrannical rigidities of both sublimated desire"" and pornographic obsession. He is not likely to succeed at this because his theory is fragmentary and highly speculative, and presented with forbidding density and complacent abstraction. But he places much knowledge and intelligence on display, and the reader with a learned and resolute curiosity about literary psychology will find his analyses of individual works and authors absorbing.

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 1976
Publisher: Little, Brown