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This review is taken from PN Review 147, Volume 29 Number 1, September - October 2002.

THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES ALBERT GOLDBARTH, Troubled Lovers in History (Ohio State University Press)
ALBERT GOLDBARTH, Saving Lives (Ohio State University Press)

The Enlightenment, which was supposed to answer all questions, is always with us, confounding us with the reiteration of its basic problem of how the world can be wholly known and mastered. The control of the world that the Enlightenment promised waxes and wanes in our minds depending on historical circumstances: sometimes the thickness of its belief structure precludes all doubt, yet at other times its veneer of order is sanded paper-thin. Indeed, in times of crisis, most notably after the Second World War, the Enlightenment has been dismissed as a masquerade which uses its benign fiction to mask naked domination. Albert Goldbarth is fascinated by the conundrums which the Enlightenment set in motion, the contradictions beneath its confident surfaces, and the fissures which expose the roots of its masterful (or fictional?) constructions.

Goldbarth is especially interested in breaking down and anatomising the structures of totalitising institutions, like the family or the great myths of western civilisation. He writes in 'In': 'the text:/& then the author's life//behind the text:/& then the pre-existing//psychic fundament behind that:/always further layers penetrable//or not:' In the amusing introductory poem to Troubled Lovers in History he juxtaposes the great, heroic narratives of nineteenth century explorers ('"There was, of course, some initial discomfort/as we kept on toward our goal"/Of course.') with the crabby reality exposed in, for instance, Dickens's travel writings: 'I prefer the more roundedly human touch/of a grandiose sniveler, who knows an inconvenience/when he sees one, and vituperates it accordingly.' This is ...

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