Bouson, J. Brooks

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BOUSON, J. Brooks

PERSONAL: Surname pronounced "boo-SAHN"; born in Washington, PA; married Robert Bouson, Jr. (a futures trader). Education: University of Illinois at Chicago, B.A.; Loyola University, Ph.D.

ADDRESSES: office—Department of English, Crown Center, Loyola University of Chicago—Lake Shore Campus, 6525 North Sheridan Rd., Chicago, IL 60626. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Educator and author. Mundelein College, Chicago, IL, assistant professor, 1980-86, associate professor of English, 1986-91; Loyola University, Chicago, associate professor, 1991-2000, professor of English, 2000—, director of undergraduate programs in English, 1998-2001, assistant chair of English, 2002—.

MEMBER: Margaret Atwood Society, Toni Morrison Society, Modern Language Association, Midwest Modern Language Association.


The Empathic Reader: A Study of the Narcissistic Character and the Drama of the Self, University of Massachusetts Press (Amherst, MA), 1989.

Brutal Choreographies: Oppositional Strategies and Narrative Design in the Novels of Margaret Atwood, University of Massachusetts Press (Amherst, MA), 1993.

Quiet As It's Kept: Shame, Trauma, and Race in the Novels of Toni Morrison, State University of New York Press (Albany, NY), 2000.

Contributor to books, including The Scope of the Fantastic, edited by Robert A. Collins and Howard D. Pearce, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1985; Narcissism and the Text: Studies in Literature and the Psychology of the Self, edited by Lynne Layton and Barbara Schapiro, New York University Press (New York, NY), 1986; Critical Essays on Franz Kafka, edited by Ruth V. Gross, G. K. Hall (Boston, MA), 1990; Mimetic Desire: Essays on Narcissism in German Literature from Romanticism to Postmodernism, edited by Jeffrey Adams and Eric Williams, Camden House

(Columbia, SC), 1995; The Critical Response to Saul Bellow, edited by Gerhard Bach, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1995; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 84, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1995; Approaches to Teaching Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" and Other Works, edited by Sharon Wilson, Thomas Friedman, and Shannon Hengen, Modern Language Association (New York, NY), 1996; Scenes of Shame: Psychoanalysis, Shame, and Writing, edited by Joseph Adamson and Hilary Clark, State University of New York Press (Albany, NY), 1999; Margaret Atwood: Modern Critical Views, edited by Harold Bloom, Chelsea House (Philadelphia, PA), 2000; The Handmaid's Tale: Modern Critical Interpretations, edited by Harold Bloom, Chelsea House (Philadelphia, PA), 2001; The Toni Morrison Encyclopedia, edited by Elizabeth Beaulieu, Greenwood Press, 2003; and Toni Morrison's Beloved, edited by Harold Bloom, Chelsea House (Philadelphia, PA), 2003.

Also contributor to periodicals, including Arachne, Style, University of Hartford Studies in Literature, Saul Bellow Journal, Studies in Scottish Literature, Cithara, Emily Dickinson Bulletin, LIT: Literature Interpretation Theory, Southern Literary Journal, Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, and Biography.

SIDELIGHTS: Literary scholar J. Brooks Bouson used the psychoanalytic theories of Heinz Kohut as the underpinning for her first book, The Empathic Reader: A Study of the Narcissistic Character and the Drama of the Self. As Bouson told CA, Kohut's work on the narcissistic disorder "focused attention on a fundamental aspect of human behavior: the desire each person feels for a sense of relationship with and empathic responsiveness from others." In The Empathic Reader, Bouson applies Kohut's theory of narcissism to well-known literary protagonists from the works of such authors as Margaret Atwood, Saul Bellow, Joseph Conrad, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Virginia Woolf, and Franz Kafka. Julius Rowan Raper, critiquing The Empathic Reader for the South Atlantic Review, observed that Bouson's book "opens with one of the clearest and most complete restatements available of the theories that Kohut developed." The critic added that "because … Bouson focuses on causes, effects, and characters, each of her chapters reads as smoothly as a story." He concluded that "her study does a good deal to put individual characters back together again—and to place them at the center of critical attention." In Modern Fiction Studies Marvin Magalaner hailed The Empathic Reader as "a fascinating … study of narcissism in modern literature" and an "excellent and unusual volume."

Bouson's examination of one of Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood's characters in The Empathic Reader increased her interest in Atwood's work as a whole, and led eventually to her 1993 book, Brutal Choreographies: Oppositional Strategies and Narrative Design in the Novels of Margaret Atwood. According to Bouson, "Atwood does not shun what she calls the 'story of the disaster, which is the world'" and therefore "her tales are often brutal, portraying female victimization at the hands of the husband or male lover, the mother, or the female friend." Topics Bouson discusses in this book include Atwood's treatment of gender and power politics, her use of family dynamics, and what Bouson described for CA as Atwood's "sabotage of romantic and other conventional plot lines."

Earl Ingersoll, reviewing Brutal Choreographies in Ariel, wrote that "Bouson offers the reader a dazzling display of exhaustive scholarship and perceptive readings of individual works" and that her book "demonstrates that readable criticism and scholarship are alive and well." In a review of Brutal Choreographies, Modern Fiction Studies contributor Lucy Freibert commented: "In order to achieve this multilayered analysis, Bouson draws on Atwood's fiction and nonfiction, on interviews, feminist theory, a wide range of popular and scholarly articles, and psychoanalytic studies." Freibert characterized Brutal Choreographies as "a trustworthy guide," and lauded it as a work that "gets right to the heart of Margaret Atwood's fiction."

Bouson's third book, Quiet As It's Kept: Shame, Trauma, and Race in the Novels of Toni Morrison, represents a new direction in her scholarship, demonstrating her evolving interest in psychoanalytic theory. Like her book on Atwood, Quiet As It's Kept grew out of Bouson's classroom experiences teaching the intellectually challenging and viscerally powerful fiction of Toni Morrison, who published her first novel in 1970 and received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. Like the work of Atwood, Morrison's novels—among them The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Beloved, Jazz, and Paradise—have attracted intense interest among academic critics as well as continuing to appeal to a wide international reading audience.

"Quiet as it's kept," which is one of Morrison's favorite African-American expressions, is a phrase used by someone who is about to reveal what is presumed to be a secret. Describing herself as living in a society in which African Americans have had to bear the assault of prejudice, in her works, Morrison brings to light public and collective secrets about the so-called dirty business of racism. As Morrison exposes sensitive race matters, she presents jarring depictions of the trauma of slavery, and the horrors of racist oppression, and black-on-black violence. Staging scenes of interand intraracial shaming in her novels, Morrison draws attention to the damaging impact of white racist practices and learned cultural shame on the collective African-American experience. She also investigates the loaded issues of internalized racism and the colorcaste hierarchy in her depictions of the class tensions and divisions within the African-American community.

In Quiet As It's Kept, Bouson draws on the recent work of shame theorists, such as Leon Wurmser, Andrew Morrison, Helen Block Lewis and others, and on trauma investigators, such as Judith Herman and Elizabeth Waites, as she provides a frank look at issues of race, class, color, and caste in Morrison's fiction. She also explains critic-readers' emotional involvement with Morrison's fiction and shows how they act out both trauma-and shame-specific roles in response to Morrison's troubled, and troubling characters. Writing for Choice, B. E. McCarthy found that Quiet As It's Kept "reveals important dimensions" of Morrison's novels and the "bases in white pathology" of the consequent shame and trauma that many African Americans experience. In a review for American Literature, contributor Rebecca Wanzo remarked that the "most intriguing aspect" of Quiet As It's Kept is the author's "emphasis on how conflicting critiques of Morrison's texts can illuminate the ambivalences the author inscribes in her fiction." Bouson is most effective, wrote Martha J. Cutter in African American Review, "when she focuses on discussing the strange, unsettling, and even perverse aspects of Morrison's texts." It is through her close examination of shame and trauma in Morrison's novels, Cutter continued, that Bouson is able to demonstrate to her readers "why Morrison's texts are often so disturbing."



African American Review, winter, 2001, Martha J. Cutter, review of Quiet As It's Kept: Shame, Trauma, and Race in the Novels of Toni Morrison, pp. 671-672.

American Literature, December, 2000, Rebecca Wanzo, review of Quiet As It's Kept, pp. 887-888.

Ariel, October, 1994, Earl Ingersoll, review of Brutal Choreographies, pp. 174-176.

Choice, April, 2000, B. E. McCarthy, review of Quiet As It's Kept, p. 1463.

Modern Fiction Studies, winter, 1989, Marvin Magalaner, review of The Empathic Reader, pp. 849-852; winter, 1994, Lucy Freibert, review of Brutal Choreographies, pp. 870-872.

South Atlantic Review, May, 1992, Julius Raper, review of The Empathic Reader, pp. 151-153.

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