GRAAT On-Line - Book Reviews

Erik S. Roraback, The Dialectics of Late Capital and Power: James, Balzac and Critical Theory (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007). £34.99, 320 pages, ISBN: 1-84718-226-7 - Gerardo Del Guercio, York College, CUNY.

Erik S. Roraback’s book, The Dialectics of Late Capital and Power: James, Balzac and Critical Theory, explores the areas of cruelty, abuse, and the inter-relationships that form when capital is used as a method of gaining power in the works of American author Henry James and the French writer Honoré de Balzac. The texts Roraback criticizes are Balzac’s Eugénie Grandet, James’s Washington Square, ‘The Aspern Papers’, The Princess Casamassima, The American Scene, The Wings of Dove, The Ambassadors, and The Golden Bowl. Together, these two Occidental novelists composed a fresh inter-disciplinary viewpoint that encompassed what later became termed psychoanalysis, as well as Marxism, Leninism, and other modernist theories to propose a changing world-view. The weltanschauung Roraback proposes is that capital and power must be eliminated to realize non-violence. In sum, Roraback repositions important English, French, America, and German philosophies of the late nineteenth century and twentieth-century so that they remain relevant and fresh to a twenty-first century reader. Professor Erik S. Roraback teaches critical theory, international cinema, James Joyce, and American Literature, at Charles University at Prague.

This tome’s ‘Introduction’ begins with a detailed discussion of Benedict de Spinoza and how his theories structure ‘our basic contention for the true and authentic use and form of the oft-wonderful thing of money capital: the new and more conceptually and theoretically deep rich notion of ‘unmoney’’ [1]. Roraback later correlates ‘un-money’ with another broadly theoretical term he calls ‘un-power’ [7], or an ‘informed heterodox and marginal secular theory for contemporary thought, that power as domination, hegemony, and intimidation is not an eternal foundation stone’ [7]. According to Roraback, the concepts of money and power are therefore not limited to one type of person, but are fundamentally alterable and transferable to others.

The relationship between money and cruelty is another key one in this tome’s introduction. Roraback brings in several theories Fredric Jameson presents in The Seeds of Time to pair the ‘sacred and power’ [6]. In doing so, Roraback’s book deviates from other studies given that it ‘constitutes a taxonomic attempt to classify different micro-level [...] and macro-level [...] fraudulently sacral powers, capitals, cruelties and violences by examining their individual and particular connections to secular and resisting forms of counter-cruelty / extra-money / non-power / non-violence in James - Balzac’ [6]. In dealing with these injustices, Roraback ultimately advocates that dealing with the description, identification, naming, and classification of organisms is oppressive and counter-productive to human development. I argue that Roraback proposes that this power be shifted from a predominantly male ownership to a subaltern one — most notably women. By shifting this power the world might return to a maternal phase that goes against war, poverty, crime, and other forms of injustice, especially violence.

The tome’s second arc is composed of chapters one to three. These essays assert that a form of ‘non-power/counter cruelty social form of resistance against stifling spirits of negatively snobbish normality of Balzac’s literary example in his life-narrative and his life work’ [158]. This dialectic is applied to James’s fiction in the way James makes concrete abstract terms like counter-cruelty / extra-money / extra-capital / and non-power. I argue that Roraback’s use of the forward slash to separate these terms demonstrates the progressions that are possible in these theories so that they remain pertinent to a twenty-first century audience.

Chapters four and five introduce Henry James’s 1886 novel The Princess Casamassima in relation to French theorists like Louis Althusser or Jacques Rancière. The contention in chapters four and five is to explore the power held by the upper-middle class and the ideologies that formed in this class to control cultural capital and create theories that correlate ideology and subject position. James and Balzac adopted this dogma from their Victorian predecessors, including John Ruskin and Walter Pater.

Roraback shifts to an investigation on wealth, medicine, composition, and hermeneutics in chapters six and seven. Applying a close reading of The Wings of the Dove and The Ambassadors, Roraback explains how James’s use of meandering sentences and paragraphs were justified because of James’s critique of medicine and its relation to practical/cultural practices. In his penultimate section, Roraback introduces the theories of Jacques Derrida, Michael Foucault, as well as Jacques Lacan’s conception of ‘transference’ [201] to build on more contemporary readings of James and Balzac.

This tome ends with an exploration of James late novel The Golden Bowl. A book that is in general terms on education, The Golden Bowl explores how protagonist Maggie slowly discards her naïveté and grows into a competent female who saves her marriage by deft handling of a potentially volatile state of affairs. Maggie ultimately understands that she is unable to stay dependent on her father, but must accept grown-up responsibilities in her marriage. Roraback uses the philosophies of Martin Heidegger to demonstrate how Maggie steps out of her childlike state and enters one of independence. Maggie therefore becomes her own ‘Being’ because she no longer requires her father’s authority and capital to survive in society. Consequently, Maggie develops into a ’new woman’ who is capable of resolving her own problems.

The Dialectics of Late Capital and Power: James, Balzac and Critical Theory successfully presents new ways of discussing late-nineteenth and twentieth century conceptions of power and wealth as ‘un-power’, ‘non-power’, un-capital’, and ‘non-capital’ in a way that these terms are germane in a twenty-first century context. Erik S. Roraback has shed new light on theories and texts that experts typically question why they are still important in the postmodern world. Roraback’s answer to this question is that the parallel between wealth and power is one that must be dismantled in order to achieve non-violence.

© 2015 Gerardo Del Guercio & GRAAT On-Line