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This review is taken from PN Review 77, Volume 17 Number 3, January - February 1991.

THE TWININGS OF TRADITION Stephen Bann, The True Vine: On Visual Representation and the Western Tradition (CUP) £35
Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (Yale University Press) £25
Robert D. Stock, The Flutes of Dionysus: Daemonic Enthrallment in Literature (University of Nebraska Press) £40.40

Cultural debate today has three major concerns. The first is with representation - in both the artistic and the political senses of the term. What does it mean, is it possible, to 'represent' people, things, artistically, politically? What are the links between artistic and political representation? What is the relation between representation and 'reality'? The second concern is with the 'subject' or 'self' - with the nature, structure, development and functions of 'individuality'. The third concern is with history (often merging into myth, fiction and politics): with those representations of the past which are bound up with individual and collective identity. All these concerns are closely intertwined. None, of course, is new: but they have gained a new force and focus, and a new complexity, at this late stage of Western culture (itself now a deeply fraught notion). Prophecies of 'the decline of the West' seem, in some ways, to have been falsified - the dream of some new order, from Russia or the Third World, which would both sweep away the old Western order but truly realize its ideals has massively collapsed, at least for the moment. But any simple triumphalism, any confident affirmation of 'Western tradition', seems inadequate to the weight of history or to the pressure of the present situation.

These three books all eschew a narrow focus on period or topic or artist and take a broad sweep through what they posit as crucial aspects of the 'Western tradition'. Stephen Bann seeks to ...


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