Phantasmagoria by Marina Warner - review by Peter Washington

Peter Washington

Glittering Quirks



Oxford University Press 496pp £18.99

Have you ever been into one of those shops which sell high-class tat to well-heeled women? English cities are full of them now, strewn with embroidered cushions, dainty furniture and china. The message of such bijouterie is obvious: that you too can share in the luxury it represents, and at a very reasonable price. Alas, the allure has nothing to do with the quality of the goods and everything to do with the decorator’s skill. Get the stuff home, and the Chippendale turns out to be poorly painted MDF, while the antique porcelain looks as though it was made in Hong Kong last week because it was. Professor Warner’s book offers the intellectual equivalent of such illusions, so it is certainly well named. Phantasmagoria brims with well-upholstered details which appear to be constructing an argument but don’t. Instead, they furnish the mind with the comfortable feeling that thinking has taken place, until you look a little closer.

If this seems a harsh judgment, I should say that the theme of Phantasmagoria – representations of spirit in modern media – is original and potentially fruitful; that Warner says many interesting things along the way; and that she has piled up a truly awesome mountain of ersatz Chippendale in

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