Tuesday, November 16, 2004

WC English Professor's New Book Examines Scapegoating In Modernist Fiction

Chestertown, MD, November 16, 2004 — Thomas Cousineau, professor of English at Washington College, has just released his third book of literary criticism, Ritual Unbound: Reading Sacrifice in Modernist Fiction. Published by the University of Delaware Press, it discusses the echoes of primitive scapegoating rituals that emerge in such canonical modernist novels as Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier, F. Scott Fitzgerald'sThe Great Gatsby, and Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse.

“I examine the ways in which the narrators of these novels, although coming to the defense of certain unjustly persecuted victims, tend to replace them with scapegoats of their own making,” says Professor Cousineau. He cites as an example The Great Gatsby, in which Nick Carraway, its narrator, protests against the unjust treatment to which Gatsby has been subjected but then unleashes his judgmental wrath on Tom and Daisy Buchanan, to whom he wrongly attributes sole responsibility for the tragedy that befalls Gatsby.

“These modernist works reveal a familiar pattern, whereby primitive rituals are abandoned only to be subsequently restored,” he says. “In this way, they reflect a modern world in which we can neither believe convincingly in the guilt of our scapegoats nor imagine a society that has dispensed with them entirely.”

In addition to his research into English and American modernist literature, Professor Cousineau is currently completing a new book on the novels of Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard. His general introduction to Bernhard's work, originally written for The Review of Contemporary Fiction, is available online at www.thomasbernhard.org.

Ritual Unbound is available from the Washington College Bookstore by calling 410-778-7749, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, or online via the websitehttp://bookstore.washcoll.edu.

Reviews of Ritual Unbound:

"Cousineau's easy command of all the nuances of the major texts and a thorough, varied sense of the way those texts enact ritual sacrifice give Ritual Unbound the special magnitude of literary criticism at its best."
—Jesse Matz, Kenyon College

"This short and dense book has managed to dispel a prejudice I had harbored for a long time against Girardian readings of ritual and sacrifice in literature. . . . Cousineau has updated his earlier Lacanian approach (deployed in a book on Beckett's novels) and blends here precise, vivid, and informed close readings with a new mode of ethical criticism."
—Jean-Michel Rabaté, Princeton University

"Cousineau is a fine reader of texts, and from his discussion of The Turn of the Screw as a persecution narrative to his insightful comments on the two endings of To the Lighthouse, he has given us a series of strong revisionist readings that should intrigue modernist scholars and provoke further debate."
—Patrick McCarthy, Professor of English, University of Miami

"His research is solid. His discussion of the motif of the latecomer in James’s The Turn of the Screw is original. His presentation of the blurring of the frontier between living and dead inHeart of Darkness shows real distinction. Both his thoughts on Nick Carraway’s reference to Gatsby’s death as a ‘holocaust’ and his repudiation of Nick as a moral guide in Fitzgerald’s 1925 classic provide rare intellectual excitement."
—Peter Wolfe, Professor of English, University of Missouri-St. Louis

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