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Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Madame Bovary on Trial

BOOK REVIEW

MADAME BOVARY ON TRIAL
Dominick LaCapra
p. 1986
Cornell University Press

  Here are a couple of things I hate:

 1. Books that are supposed to be about one subject and then proceed to not talk at all about the purported topic.
 2.  Specialist debates in literary studies from the 1980s and 1990s.

  I imagine there was a time in the 1980s and 1990s when tenured literature professors in major American Universities must have felt pretty smug about themselves.  Using French theory as a vehicle, they, as a group, managed to go 20 plus years without writing a single thing interesting to any audience outside their own graduate students.  This "French turn" was not limited to literary studies, but the study of literature in the 80s and 90s is the illustration of the French turn in American academic prose "par excellance."

   I bought this book simply because the title seemed to promise a description of the events surrounding the actual trial that took place after Madame Bovary was published for the first time.   According to LaCapra it's an event that has been neglected in Flaubertian studies because of the believe that the prosecution was simply a vehicle to go after the magazine that published Madame Bovary.

   Unfortunately for me, LaCapra only devotes a chapter to the trial- not even including the fifty page transcript in this volume- and then spends the rest of the book summarizing the lengthy history of Bovarian criticism by authors such as Sartre et al.  This book is so 1980s that LaCapra uses Paul De Man's translation as his preferred English version Madame Bovary.  You have to know who Paul De Man is to get that point, but trust me- he is a classic 80s literary studies guy and, as it turned out, a Nazi collaborator.  Put that in your deconstructionist pipe and smoke it.

  This book shows it's age like a suburban Mom shopping at Forever 21.

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