REPRESENTATIONS: Essays on Literature and Society by Steven Marcus

REPRESENTATIONS: Essays on Literature and Society

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Donnishness: no academic ever quite escapes it, even if Steven Marcus comes as close as one can to the best of two intellectual worlds, with gigs at both Columbia and Partisan Review, works focusing on socialism and pornography in the Victorian era as well as literature, an anthology of modern fiction and the ""discovery"" of Dashiell Hammett. Writing on George Eliot in the context of ""Literature and Social Theory,"" he speculates with tongue in cheek: ""It may simply be that I have one of the better American minds of the late nineteenth century."" And that is as good a description as any of his social conscience. What is more up-to-date than his treatment of literature as sociology (represented here by ruminations on Eliot, Kipling and Dickens) is the examination of sociology as literary text. The best essay in this category is his probing of Freud's ""Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria."" Others work through an account of the conquest of Everest, a psychologist's brutalizing experiment on ""Authority and Obedience,"" Foucault's history of madness and civilization, and the place of the historical novel in the public imagination. Although this approach, which is predicated on the 20th century relativistic view that we are all in the same leaky intellectual boat together, sparks a number of insights, Marcus seems nonetheless cramped by his references. How else explain the necessity of placing Hammett in an overstuffed and oversold ""Hobbesian-rather-than-Marxist"" framework? There's no question that these are entertaining and stimulating pieces, but they leave you wanting. He catches the ball every time, but why doesn't he run with it?

Pub Date: Jan. 9th, 1975
Publisher: Random House