Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada



the Complete Review
the complete review - sociology /philosophy / economics

The Coming of the Body

Hervé Juvin

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Coming of the Body

Title: The Coming of the Body
Author: Hervé Juvin
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 181 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Coming of the Body - US
The Coming of the Body - UK
The Coming of the Body - Canada
L'avènement du corps - Canada
L'avènement du corps - France
  • French title: L'avènement du corps
  • Translated by John Howe

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B : interesting argument, fairly well presented

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
L'Express . 3/11/2005 Georges Vigarello
New Left Review . 5-6/2006 Perry Anderson

  From the Reviews:
  • "Hervé Juvin se montre pessimiste: il pense que cette économie corporelle égoïste dilapide ressources et énergie, et menace la survie d'un monde d'abondance illusoire." - Georges Vigarello, L'Express

  • "This sounds like a standard refrain of neo-liberal critiques of the French welfare state, which regularly denounce the same distortions, and count on the entry of Anglo-Saxon pension funds and flexible labour laws to rectify them, in confident reliance on the globalizing logic of today’s world market. Juvin, however, while otherwise at one with such critics, evinces none of their optimism. (...) What is the upshot? Juvin’s central message is a sinister paradox: what communism set out to do, and disastrously failed to achieve, capitalism is in the process of realizing. The wildest of all the utopian dreams of revolutions gone by is now taking shape, unseen, before our eyes." - Perry Anderson, New Left Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       In The Coming of the Body Hervé Juvin argues that we have moved into an age of the primacy of the body: medicine (and a few other factors) have greatly extended average life expectancy while also giving us almost complete control over procreation, leading to a world with entirely different priorities and values than previously. Demographics across the world show an incredible shift to an aging population -- though economic foundations have not yet been adapted to support it (long term), from basics such as raising the mandatory retirement age. The body can be kept alive, but health costs increase dramatically with (old) age; the politically dominant geezer generation can insist that resources -- relatively plentiful, for now, in the industrialised world -- be allocated to it rather than elsewhere, which results in, in many ways, determining our futures.
       Juvin, who has written several books on economics, does look at the economic impact of the new primacy of the body, but also goes considerably further in The Coming of the Body. So, for example:

The supreme values used to be the ones you could kill and die for; when the supreme value becomes not killing and not dying, the models change. All our values have life as their limit. The whole of Europe takes it for granted that nothing is worth more than a life, and sees this attitude as denoting a higher level of civilization.
       He suggests:
     When the length of life doubles, it is no longer the same life, no longer the same person. This break touches more and more closely on everything connected with the duration of human life, its hazards, its brevity. For one who expects to live a century, all that has been constructed, thought out, codified to suit a short life is wrong. Everything -- family, marriage, inheritance, saving, morality -- needs to be shaken through a different long-life sieve. Commitment, fidelity, faith will never again have the meaning they had in societies where men were generals at 20 and eternity was waiting after another ten years: time enough to live fast and make a handsome corpse. A sort of frivolity about ourselves has gone. Life is too long now to be thrown away for nothing.
       Among his points is the near-complete control over procreation that now exists, "an end to reproduction", as he puts it:
children are going to be produced, now in every sense of the word: technical mastery, specific choice, and the market, with the cost-effectiveness it implies. The child is its mother's product.
       Leading to "a historic breakdown of transmission in Europe" -- with sex no longer an essential part of procreation, and hence a separate act, and (practically) all children born "out of the desire for a child of its parents ... or parent" -- this will represent another fundamental shift in the shape of society, yet another move towards the primacy of the individual over any collective (and society, as a whole).
       Juvin also observes that human mastery has, essentially, conquered nature, in all its senses, now:
Our reality henceforth is the product of industry, technology and human reason. The most immediate form of otherness, that is what is lost when nature goes away. Nature, like living in the wild, has entered the domain of choice, value and the market, being already in that of private property, and thus of the rarity sanctioned and produced by it. There is nothing external to us any more; nothing we are not responsible for now.
       One -- in some respects the major -- consequence Juvin sees is that "the body's primacy will restore to collective choice the mastery over the economy it had lost during the early stages of global mercantilization."
       As he sees it:
In this respect, the advent of the body really does mean the end for all-powerful financial markets as we know them, just as it calls for a restoration of the political order to serve its well-being, its long life, its salvation.
       Juvin brings together a number of issues that are increasingly and unavoidably receiving attention (though most of that remains narrowly focused on rising health care costs and their consequences, even as their primary cause is still largely evaded in discussion) and he usefully suggests connections between some that are not generally treated as different aspects of the same larger problem. Much of his denatured and sterilized vision is undeniable; certainly all of it is a useful basis for discussion. Fundamental changes in family and hence societal structures, as well as our 'mastery' over all aspects of nature require changes in law, politics, and business that still lag far behind the (very fast) times; more importantly, the dramatic consequences should be carefully and closely considered (and they clearly haven't been, as mankind rushes headfirst onwards into an abyss of its own making).
       The French-philosophical approach and tone in how Juvin presents his arguments in The Coming of the Body can be a bit wearing; an American or British author would presumably have taken a much more fact- and numbers-based approach, and the sheer number of Juvin's general and sweeping statements can make his argument feel more rickety than need be. Still, The Coming of the Body reads fairly well and easily, and certainly offers much food for thought.

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 August 2010

- Return to top of the page -


The Coming of the Body: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       French author Hervé Juvin was born in 1958.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2010 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links