Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.08.42 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.08.42

Cesare Cuttica, Gaby Mahlberg (ed.), Patriarchal Moments: Reading Patriarchal Texts. Textual moments in the history of political thought.   London; New York:  Bloomsbury Academic, 2016.  Pp. xii, 217.  ISBN 9781472589156.  $29.95.  


Reviewed by Georgina White, Central European University (whiteg@ceu.edu)

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[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This collection of essays represents a fresh offering in Bloomsbury Press’s “Textual Moments in the History of Political Thought” series, an exciting new attempt to bring together a number of essays by experts on key texts in the history of political thought.

Published at the same time as the series’ Feminist Moments, this volume takes as its focus “Patriarchal Moments,” though those familiar with the former volume will find significant overlap both in the themes discussed and even in some of the texts treated: for example, Mary Astell’s Reflections on Marriage (1700) is the subject of chapters in both works and “proto-feminist” (p.6) Mary Wollstonecraft earns essays in each. Part of the reason for the overlap between these two volumes is the broad definition of “patriarchal moment” that is employed in this work. The editors take as their remit key texts in which patriarchal power (a “concept of power implying a fatherly male domination of society,” p.1) is contested or renegotiated in some way. While, in the majority of texts chosen for study, this renegotiation amounts to the reaffirmation or expansion of patriarchal power structures (for example, Deborah W. Rooke’s analysis of biblical passages in the opening chapter, which traces “the increasingly patriarchal trajectory of an already patriarchal tradition,” p.16), a significant proportion of the essays in the latter half of the volume describe challenges to patriarchal attitudes. As well as the essays on Mary Astell and Mary Wollstonecraft, the final six essays in this chronologically-ordered1 book treat texts which are described as subverting patriarchal norms, and so seem to have as great a claim to inclusion in the Feminist Moments volume as in the Patriarchal Moments volume. The upside of this is that Patriarchal Moments would work as a standalone teaching text, introducing students to a variety of texts which both support and challenge patriarchal power structures. However, as this book is explicitly intended as a complement to the Feminist Moments volume, one wonders whether it might have been more valuable to include some more recent texts which show that support for traditional patriarchal ideas did, in fact, persist into the 19th:, 20th, and even 21st centuries.

The format of this volume is, like that of the other volumes in this series, rather unusual. The slim paperback edition contains an almost dizzying number of essays. There are 21 chapters, each written by a different author and treating a different text, with no contribution running to more than 9 printed pages. Each chapter begins with an extended quotation from the work under discussion, which provides the reader with an extract of about half a page taken from the original text. It then continues with a short essay, which takes its cue from the quoted passage but explores more generally the status of the text in question as a key moment in the (re)negotiation of patriarchal thought. To take as an example the chapter which will probably be of most interest to classicists, Edith Hall’s treatment of Aristotle’s Politics (Ch.4) begins with an abbreviated quotation of Politics book 1, 1259a-1260a, translated by Hall herself. The translation is clear and accessible, and the passage well chosen; but cutting the excerpt down to size requires the omission of a few vital sentences, which then need to be paraphrased in the main text of the essay (p.39), and also means that the translation picks up after an ellipsis with an “of this” which has no obvious referent. The subsequent essay is in 3 parts, beginning with a (very brief) discussion of Aristotle’s life; then considering the location of the quoted passage within the project of the Politics as a whole; and finally offering a close reading of the passage which emphasises the psychological grounds Aristotle gives for the differing patriarchal relationships of a husband’s control over his wife and a father’s domination of his children. In doing so, Hall’s treatment combines a solid, well-written, and for the most part conventional introduction to the presentation of women and children in Aristotle’s Politics with some more novel and controversial observations which should stimulate lively class discussion if not always agreement.2 In addition to the textual excerpt and essay, each chapter is accompanied by a short bibliography containing suggestions for further reading. The bibliography accompanying Hall’s chapter on Aristotle, for example, contains only 4 items: Cynthia Freeland’s Feminist Interpretations of Aristotle (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998) and 3 short articles treating Aristotle’s presentation of women. Consequently, as is the case with the rest of the bibliographies in this book, it should prove much more useful to undergraduates making their first forays into individual research than to the expert reader.

There are a number of benefits to this novel format. It provides, in a short and affordable volume, an introduction to a large number of texts of differing genres and from a variety of different periods. Meanwhile, the inclusion of the opening extracts provides the reader with some exposure to the original texts and offers a possible focus for text-based class discussions. A brief glance at the contents (below) shows the expansive time-frame and wide range of texts under discussion, which include poetry, oratory, drama, and religious texts, as well as political and philosophical treatises. Working with these diverse texts, and the aforementioned broad definition of patriarchy, each author picks up on different themes in their essay, and so reveals the variety of interconnected power relations that can feed into patriarchal ideology: we see the power of male over female within the institution of marriage (e.g. Federico Bonaddio, Ch.20 on Federico García Lorca’s Blood Wedding), the domination of female by male in the natural world (e.g. Edith Hall, Ch.4 on Aristotle’s Politics), the rule of father over son within the family (e.g. Oliver Jahraus, Ch.19 on Franz Kafka’s Letter to his Father), and the rule of monarch over subjects (e.g. Cesare Cuttica, Ch.8 on Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha). The large number of essays in this volume also means that a variety of academic perspectives and methodologies are on display, from the historicism of Jonathan Scott’s analysis of Algernon Sidney’s Discourses Concerning Government (Ch.9), which discusses the biographical and political contexts that informed the production of the text, to Arnold Weinstein’s resolutely literary critical analysis of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler (Ch.18), which traces the symbolism of the book manuscript as offspring in the play. How useful an individual reader finds each of these approaches will depend very much on the interests and temperament s/he brings to the book. As a display of the various perspectives available for grappling with these texts, however, the volume works admirably.

There are, of course, some obvious downsides to the format of this book. While the majority of authors succeed in integrating an astonishing amount of background information into the limited space available (of particular note here is Sarra Lev’s clear and insightful introduction to midrash in Ch.2), at times historical figures and events can pop up with little to no introduction, which may prove confusing for the student reader (e.g. “Robert Sanderson, bishop of Lincoln” makes a brief cameo at p.86; the Forced Loan of 1626-7 is mentioned in a throwaway mark at p.70). The book is also distinctly (and self-consciously) Western in focus and a little unbalanced in its choice of texts, with philosophical treatises and religious texts being confined to the earlier historical periods, and novels and plays to the final half of the book. Additionally, while the broad definition of “patriarchal moment” has its virtues, there are points at which one wishes that a more standard definition had been used across the offerings. Anne McLaren’s essay on John Knox’s First Blast of the Trumpet (Ch.6), for example, which is illuminating while it focuses on the text, gets derailed in its closing pages as it takes up the biographical question of whether or not Knox himself was a misogynist. The most successful contributions take a consideration of their chosen “patriarchal moment” to involve an analysis of the later influence of the text under discussion, as well as its content and historical context: for example Catherine Conybeare’s analysis of Augustine’s The City of God and its influence on Hannah Arendt (Ch.5), or Charlotte Alston’s essay on Leo Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata, which outlines the subsequent censorship of the text and its emergence as a focus for discussion of contemporary attitudes to sex, marriage, and gender relations. One might wish that this approach had been encouraged more universally across the contributions.

In general, then, this volume should prove to be a useful and well-priced addition to any undergraduate course dealing with the contours of patriarchal power in the western world. The passages chosen are all relevant and interesting, and student readers will find the short essays lively and easily digestible (though they may require additional background information on the texts, figures, and historical periods under discussion). Where the source passages have been translated the English is smooth and readable, and the text of the essays is admirably clean and free of error. The only typographical issue is the lack of consistency in the formatting of the quoted passages that begin the various chapters. In the selections from Bereshit Rabbah which begin chapter 2, for example, square brackets are employed to show conjectured additions and transliterated Hebrew terms are given as non-italicised text in rounded brackets (e.g. “R. Yohanan opened [his exposition]: ‘“You have beset me behind and before (ahor vadedem tzartani) ”…’ ” p.19). In chapter 3’s translation of the Qur’an, however, both conjectured additions and transliterations of the original Arabic are given as italicised text within square brackets (e.g. “men are [qawwamuna ῾ala] women [on the basis] of what Allah has [faddala] some of them over others…” p.27). In the dramatic texts, stage directions are sometimes given in non-italicised text (Ch.18), and sometimes in italics (Ch.20). Meanwhile, although emphasis is generally indicated in these texts by a change in italicisation, the excerpt from Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha (ch.8) employs *asterisks* instead, and, despite the fact that every other extended quotation is given in italics, for some reason Ch.12’s quotation from Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man is not italicised. These typographical inconsistencies are for the most part unobtrusive, but they are never acknowledged or explained,3 and so may cause unnecessary confusion in the classroom when trying to compare two texts with different formatting conventions.

Authors and Titles

“Introduction,” Cesare Cuttica
1. “The Talmud: A Tale of Two Bodies”, Sarra Lev
2. “Of Women, Snakes and Trees: The Bible,” Deborah W. Rooke
3. “Patriarchalism and the Qur'an,” Asma Barlas
4. “Citizens but Second-Class: Women in Aristotle's Politics (384 to 322 B.C.E.),” Edith Hall
5. “Augustine's The City of God (5th century A.D.): Patriarchy, Pluralism, and the Creation of Man,” Catherine Conybeare
6. “Men, Women and Monsters: John Knox's First Blast of the Trumpet (1558),” Anne McLaren
7. “Love and Order: William Gouge, Of Domesticall Duties (1622),” Karen Harvey
8. “Filmer's Patriarcha (1680): Absolute Power, Political Patriarchalism and Patriotic Language,” Cesare Cuttica
9. “Patriarchy, Primogeniture and Prescription: Algernon Sidney's Discourses Concerning Government (1698),” Jonathan Scott
10. “Locke's Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693): Fathers and Conversational Friendship,” J. K. Numao
11. “'Nothing Pleases Like an Intire Subjection': Mary Astell Reflects on the Politics of Marriage (1700),” Brett D. Wilson
12. “Ants, Bees, Fathers, Sons: Pope's Essay on Man (1734) and the Natural History of Patriarchy,” Paul Baines
13. “Rousseau's Emile (1762): The Patriarchal Family and the Education of the Republican Citizen,” Sandrine Parageau
14. “Patriarchy and Enlightenment in Immanuel Kant (1784),” Jordan Pascoe
15. “In 'Her Father's House': Women as Property in Wollstonecraft's Mary (1788),” Michelle Faubert
16. “Father Enfantin, the Saint-Simonians and the 'Call to Woman' (1831),” Daniel Laqua
17. “Leo Tolstoy, The Kreutzer Sonata (1889),” Charlotte Alston
18. “Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler (1890) as 'Patriarchal Moment',” Arnold Weinstein
19. “Account of a Fight against Paternal Authority: Franz Kafka's Letter to his Father (1919),” Oliver Jahraus
20. “Federico García Lorca's Blood Wedding (1932): Patriarchy's Tragic Flaws,” Federico Bonaddio
21. “'His peremptory prick': the failure of the phallic in Angela Carter's The Passion of New Eve (1977),” Ruth Charnock
“Postscript,” Gaby Mahlberg

Notes:


1.   The exceptions to this chronological arrangement are the 3 opening essays in the volume, which discuss the central texts of Abrahamic religion: the Bible, the Talmud, and the Qur’an. The book then moves backwards in time to Aristotle’s Politics and proceeds chronologically from there.
2.   For a similar analysis of the presentation of women in this passage, see e.g. Saunders, Trevor J. Aristotle Politics. Books 1 and 2. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995) p.96-7. Among Hall’s more novel contributions is the claim that Aristotle’s reference to the low-born Egyptian king Amasis in this passage illustrates how, just as Amasis ruled due to his wisdom rather than by birth-right, it is the male’s deliberative capabilities rather than social convention that guarantee his rule over women. Although the exact reading given here sits rather strangely with the position of the reference to Amasis in Aristotle’s text, Hall’s highlighting of Aristotle’s choice of example and its connection to the Herodotean tradition is certainly welcome.
3.   The exception is Sarra Lev’s note that “italics indicate transliterations and my own emphasis” (p.194). Unfortunately, however, it seems the author was unaware that the opening excerpt would be reproduced in italics. So, while transliterations and emphatic phrases are indeed italicised in the body of her essay, they are, in fact, unitalicised in the opening excerpt in order to differentiate them from the surrounding text.

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