Monarchy and Incest in Renaissance England: Literature, Culture, Kinship, and Kingship

By Bruce Thomas Boehrer | Go to book overview

2. Incest and Tudor Literary Politics

Henry's Legacy

If Henry's divorce literature tends to trick the reader into mistaking provisional discursive maneuvering for fixed and universal doctrine, the major contemporary theories of incest may well do the same thing. That, at least, is how Pierre Bourdieu views matters in his Outline of a Theory of Practice ( 1977). Writing in response to Lévi-Strauss's model of incest, Bourdieu asserts the fundamental deficiency of any social theory based solely upon rules.

It is significant that "culture" is sometimes described as a map; it is the analogy which occurs to an outsider who has to find his way around in a foreign landscape and who compensates for his lack of practical mastery, the prerogative of the native, by the use of a model of all possible routes. The gulf between this potential, abstract space...and the practical space of journeys actually...being made, can be seen from the difficulty we have in recognizing familiar routes on a map or town-plan until we are able to bring together the axes of the field of potentialities and the "system of axes linked unalterably to our bodies, and carried about with us wherever we go," as Poincaré puts it, which structures practical space into right and left, up and down, in front and behind. ( Outline2)

Bourdieu views all the foregoing theories of incest as inadequate, for they all emphasize universal regulation at the expense of local improvisation; they seek, that is, to establish an official law of kinship restrictions that is mechanically imposed on the individual: a law (of exchange, of aversion, of attraction, of degeneration) operating from outside the social body, to which all figures must conform and from which none should vary. In the process, these theories tend to forget that it is individuals themselves, in individual circumstances, who must do the imposing, and that these individuals, as individuals, can never absolutely embody the law itself.

Bourdieu would prefer a theory of incest that correlates the notion of social regulation with that of social practice -- one, that is, that coordinates

-42-

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Monarchy and Incest in Renaissance England: Literature, Culture, Kinship, and Kingship
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Introduction 1
  • I- Henry VIII and the Political Uses Of Incest Theory 19
  • 2. Incest and Tudor Literary Politics 42
  • 3- James I and the Fabrication Of Kinship 86
  • 4. the End of Kingship? 113
  • 5- Conclusions: the Politics of Incest Theory 138
  • Afterword 157
  • Notes 159
  • Bibliography 173
  • Index 185
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