|Trade paperback, 196 pages|
Acquired April 2012
Read July 2012
by Amanda Anderson
Anderson looks at the concept of "detachment" in a range of Victorian texts, both literary and critical, especially those by Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Matthew Arnold, and Oscar Wilde. One of the best parts of the book is perhaps here mere coinage of the term detachment to "encompass not only science, critical reason, disinterestedness, and realism, but also a set of practices of the self, ranging from stoicism to cosmopolitanism to dandyism" (7). Her emphasis is not on science itself, but it easily applies to it.
Anderson makes a couple good critical moves that make this book very worthwhile. One is that she takes the authors she studies and turn their concepts back on themselves, pointing out that though Dickens may lambast certain forms of detachment in his novels, his novels are just as detached in ways that have more in common more than they differ.
Secondly, she's not afraid to advance a position: The Powers of Distance doesn't just analyze detachment, it attempts to reclaim the practice from the bad reputation that (she argues) it has unjustly received in modern critical circles. (I largely agree with her on this point.) She points out that modern critics love irony, which is another form of detachment of course, but also that irony is cheap: you can critique one thing without having to embrace another. Stop being afraid of commitment! Detachment is acceptable, and the fact that it occasionally or even always fails doesn't stop aspiring to it from being worthwhile.