Saturday, May 30, 2009

Mothers and Others

TLS May 22 2009

from Michele Pridmore-Brown's review of Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's Mothers and Others: The evolutionary origins of mutual understanding:

[Hrdy's] paradigm in essence decentres--it obviously does not eliminate--the usual Darwinian stories of "man the hunter" and his inter-group enmity and intra-group power struggles; instead, Hrdy argues that the marauding and patriarchal lifestyles of the past 12.000 years (the Neolithic era) are a scrim or coda that have obscured other kinds of selective pressures that would have been especially operative during the hundreds of thousands of years of the Pleistocene. The supposedly "female" impulse to "tend and befriend"--to optimize sharing--as a way of manufacturing alternative parents would, she argues, have been more important to infant survival in harsh conditions than the supposedly "male" desire to outmanoeuvre or kill an elusive and distant other. 

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from Peter Holbrook's review of Catherine Belsey's Shakespeare in Theory and Practice:

The dust jacket of Shakespeare in Theory and Practice glows with a reproduction of "Queen Mab's Cave" by J. M. W. Turner. the image is both refulgent and hard to make out: it conveys something of Catherine Belsey's preoccupation with that which lies outside understanding--that obscure object of desire, the pursuit of which is a feature of being human. Turner's golden, delirious picture is both compelling and swooningly vague, signifying a desire we can barely articulate. 

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Ultimately, underying [Belsey's] approach to the literary is a conception of the human. People and poems are "potentially inconsistent", not monological. Our nature is best captured in the rhetorical figure known as "synoeciosis, the trope of deconstruction"--which George Puttenham terms "the Cross-couple" and which "brings contraries together to form oxymoronic . . . truths" (for example, the notion that "excess of pleasure brings grief"). Understanding plays or persons means attending to the internal oppositions structuring them--and refusing to unify them under any "single thematic imperative". The politics of this interpretative mode are not obvious. Does it perhaps resemble the position of a liberal-conservative thinker such as Michael Oakeshott, in which irony, plurality and the empirical are valued over rationalist simplifications? One response to desire's eternal unruliness might be dandified disdain for any project naively seeking rationally to reorder the world. If desire is always already tragic, hopes for end-of-history plenitude or social amelioration are doomed. "All things that are / Are with more spirit chased than enjoy'd", as Shakespeare's Gratiano observes. The social revolution becomes, in the Lacanian terms Belsey adopts, the mere "stand-in" for that desired thing that can never be had. Like Apollo seizing Daphne, the moment we possess what we (think we) want we stumble on another yawning lack.


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