Saturday, July 25, 2020

Book pairing

Continuing on the theme of books that provoke surprising connections when read together I want to recommend pairing Marilyn Strathern's work on Relations with anything by Henry James (from Daisy Miller onwards). I've always been struck by the Jamesian use of the term 'vulgar' - in part because it resonates with a family joke, (which I won't go into) - but mostly because it's one of those words that surfaces repeatedly in The Awkward Age, The Golden Bowl, The Wings of the Dove and in some ways becomes James's signature theme. Relations, people and behaviours that are below the norms of an idea of respectability all fall into his category of the vulgar. For James the vulgar is a register of social distinction at a time in which it is being tested in New and Old World sociality as well as by shifting generational impulses and family tensions. Purdy's 1968 essay 'Henry James's use of vulgar' in the journal American Speech explores some of this and is particularly good at teasing out the different connotations of the word. Strathern, however, has an entirely different project in mind as she problematises the place of relations in and beyond anthroplogy. Charting the rise of relationality as a way of looking at and ordering the world she is optimistic about new ways of thinking about relations - a re-enchantment through language.

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