Winner of a MacArthur Foundation grant (popularly known as the "genius award"), Marc Shell has emerged as one of the most innovative and powerful thinkers of our times. As Stanley Cavell of Harvard University has written, "Marc Shell's originality of mind and his radical depth of learning are astounding, compelling, like a force of nature. The world looks different after an encounter with the seriousness and fruitfulness of his mind." In works such as Money, Language, Thought and The End of Kinship, he demonstrated his ability to draw profound insights about society and culture out of diverse strands of the human experience. Now, in Children of the Earth, he goes further, in a provocative look at the relationship between kinship and nationhood in Western culture.
Children of the Earth provides a powerful new reassessment of the ways in which we have defined ourselves--in terms of race, nationality, blood relations, and the Family of Humankind--by exploring the dangers and contradictions inherent in them all. Shell ranges far and wide through Western culture to call into question many of our basic assumptions. Like the child in the story of Solomon's Judgment, he writes, we could all be changelings, switched in the cradle--and there is no unshakeable answer to the question of who are our true parents. By breaking down the most basic concept of group identity (the family), Shell opens a detailed re-examination of the emergence of social and political ideologies in Western culture. He analyzes a number of important and revealing texts from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries. For instance, he looks at Hamlet to explore the origins of the modern idea of the nation; he discusses Queen Elizabeth I's little known poem Mirror of the Soul as an important source on the interplay between incest, politics, and religious theories of the Reformation; and he reads Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson in an examination of how the phenomenon of Siamese twins (the only people who can be sure they are related) helped define familial, racial, and national ideologies in the nineteenth century United States.
In an analysis that ranges from imperial Rome to the Spanish Inquisition, from the Amsterdam of Spinoza to Nazi Germany, Shell illuminates the interplay of kinship, race, and national identity. By drawing startling connections between seemingly unrelated elements of history, ideology, and literature, he forever changes the way we think about who we are.show more