cover image Action and Reaction: The Life and Adventures of a Couple

Action and Reaction: The Life and Adventures of a Couple

Jean Starobinski. Zone Books (NY), $35.95 (468pp) ISBN 978-1-890951-20-7

During the late 80s and early 90s, a period of high post-structuralist dudgeon in the academy and the art world, Zone Books rose to prominence with a series of lavishly designed anthologies featuring big-name semioticians in a context of considered graphic disorganization. With its emphasis on the gnomic, the fragmentary, the partial, Zone captured something of its postmodern moment. This book continues the tradition, offering ""a polyphonic score--or kind of mosaic"" on the metaphor of ""action and reaction"" across many disciplines. The author traces the etymology of the term ""action and reaction"" throughout the ages, in a nimble, even flitting, play of erudition, considering the implications of how philosophers, scientists, and writers (from Aristotle to Nietzsche, Newton to Freud and Balzac to Poe) have analyzed and used the concept. But while the breadth of scholarship is impressive, the master metaphor remains somewhat flaccid, failing to live up to the elegance of its frame. ""Today,"" the author admits at the outset, ""(action and reaction) is a rather banal term,"" a problem that weakens the book considerably, turning the author's elevated method and vocabulary into something of an academic exercise.