A definition of [George] Eliot as renunciatory culture-mother may seem an odd preface to a discussion of Silas Marner since, of all her novels, this richly constructed work is the one in which the empty pack of daughterhood appears fullest, the honey of femininity most unpunished. I want to argue, however, that this “legendary tale,” whose status as a schoolroom classic makes it almost as much a textbook as a novel, examines the relationship between woman’s fate and the structure of society in order to explicate the meaning of the empty pack of daughterhood. More specifically, this story of an adoptive father, an orphan daughter, and a dead mother broods on events that are actually or symbolically situated on the margins or boundaries of society, where culture must enter into a dialectical struggle with nature, in order to show how the young female human animal is converted into the human daughter, wife, and mother. Finally, then, this fictionalized “daughteronomy” becomes a female myth of origin narrated by a severe literary mother uses the vehicle of a half-allegorical family romance to urge acquiescence in the law of the Father.
If Silas Marner is not obviously a story about the empty pack of daughterhood, it is plainly, of course, a “legendary tale” about a wanderer with a heavy yet empty pack. In fact, it is through the image of the packman that the story, in Eliot’s own words, “came across my other plans by a sudden inspiration”—and, clearly, her vision of this burdened outsider is a re-vision of the Romantic wanderer who haunts the borders of society, seeking a local habitation and a name.11 I would argue further, though, that Eliot’s depiction of Silas Marner’s alienation begins to explain Ruby Redinger’s sense that the author of this “fluid and metaphoric” story “is” both Eppie, the redemptive daughter, and Silas, the redeemed father. For in examining the outcast weaver’s marginality, this novelist of the “hidden life” examines also her own female disinheritance and marginality.12
11. Eliot to Blackwood, 12 Jan. 1861, quoted in Ruby V. Redinger, George Eliot: The Emergent Self (New York, 1975), p. 436. As Susan Garber has suggested to me, the resonant image of the “packman” may be associated with the figure of Bob Jakin in The Mill on the Floss (which Eliot had just completed), the itinerant pack-bearing peddler who brings Maggie Tulliver a number of books, the most crucial of which is Tomas à Kempis’ treatise on Christian renunciation (so that its subject metaphorically associates it with Silas Marner’s pack full of emptiness).
12. Rediner, George Eliot, p. 439; Eliot, “Finale,” Middlemarch, p. 896.
See also: Sandra M. Gilbert, Widow
Sandra M. Gilbert, now professor of English at the University of California, Davis, will join the Department of English at Princeton University in fall 1985. Her most recent works include a collection of poems, Emily’s Bread (1984), and, coedited with Susan Gubar, The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: The Tradition in English (1985). In addition, she is at work on Mother Rites: Studies in Literature and Maternity, a project from which “Life’s Empty Pack” is drawn, and, with Susan Gubar, on No Man’s Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century, a sequel to their collaborative Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (1979). “Costumes of the Mind: Transvestitism as Metaphor in Modern Literature” appeared in the Winter 1980 issue of Critical Inquiry.
In a wholesale destructive or deconstructive critique of Western philosophical tradition, it is precisely this ethnocentric-phonocentric view of language that Jacques Derrida has chosen for his target. In Derrida’s critique, Hegel appears as one of the powerful enactors of that tradition yet peculiarly on the verge of turning away from it as “the last philosopher of the book and the first thinker of writing.”13 As Derrida sees it, phonocentrism in its philosophical dimension is also “logocentrism: the metaphysics of phonetic writing” (p. 3). Derrida makes it quite clear that such logocentrism is related to Western thinking and to Western thinking alone. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak points this out in the translator’s preface to Of Grammatology: “Almost by a reverse ethnocentrism, Derrida insists that logocentrism is a property of the West…. Although something of the Chinese prejudice of the West is discussed in Part I, the East is never seriously studied or deconstructed in the Derridean text” (p. lxxxii). As a matter of fact, not only is the East never seriously deconstructed but Derrida even sees in the nonphonetic Chinese writing “the testimony of a powerful movement of civilization developing outside of all logocentrism” (p. 90). When he looks within the Western tradition for a breakthrough, he finds it in nothing other than the poetics of Ezra Pound and his mentor, Ernest Fenollosa, who built a graphic poetics on what is certainly a peculiar reading of Chinese ideograms:
This is the meaning of the work of Fenellosa [sic] whose influence upon Ezra Pound and his poetics is well-known: this irreducibly graphic poetics was, with that of Mallarmé, the first break in the most entrenched Western tradition. The fascination that the Chinese ideogram exercised on Pound’s writing may thus be given all its historical significance. [P. 92]
Since Chinese is a living language with a system of nonphonetic script that functions very differently from that of any Western language, it naturally holds a fascination for those in the West who, weary of the Western tradition, try to find an alternative model on the other side of the world, in the Orient. This is how the so-called Chinese prejudice came into being at the end of the seventeenth and during the eighteenth centuries, when some philosophers in the West, notably Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, saw “in the recently discovered Chinese script a model of the philosophical language thus removed from history” and believed that “what liberates Chinese script from the voice is also that which, arbitrarily and by the artifice of invention, wrenches it from history and gives it to philosophy” (p. 76). In other words, what Leibniz and others saw in the Chinese language was what they desired and projected there, “a sort of European hallucination,” as Derrida rightly terms it. “And the hallucination translated less an ignorance than a misunderstanding. It was not disturbed by the knowledge of Chinese script, limited but real, which was then available” (p. 80).
Zhang Longxi is on the faculty of the Department of English Language and Literature at Peking University. He is the author of A Critical Introduction to Twentieth-Century Theories of Literature (forthcoming) and is currently studying comparative literature at Harvard University.
The project begins by drawing two basic distinctions. The first distinction is between forms of ideological discourse in general, which may not be critical in their orientation, and those forms of critical discourse which are historically self-conscious in their method. The formal antitype of all critical discourse is, in this view, the discourse of interpretation. The second distinction separates forms of critical thought (for example, forms of logic) from forms of critical discourse. Unlike the latter, forms of thought do not require for their existence the operation of an explicit set of signs or system of objective articulation.
One further introductory point is in order. I believe that the elementary forms of critical discourse should be divided into two large categories: the narrative forms, on the one hand, and the nonnarrative forms, on the other. Furthermore, I suggest that the nonnarrative forms—which are my chief concern in this paper—comprise four elementary types: the hypothetical (which corresponds to the form of thought we call inductive logic); the practical or injunctive (which corresponds to the form of thought we call deductive logic); the array; and the dialectic. I shall concentrate on the nonnarrative forms, and in particular on the array and the dialectic, for two reasons: first, one of these, the array, is not normally recognized as a form of critical discourse; and, second, both the array and the dialectic offer especially clear contrasts with narrative forms of discourse, both critical and noncritical.1
1. Some brief comments on the other two nonnarrative forms may be useful. Perhaps the best examples of a practical or injunctive form are furnished in a book like Euclid’s Elements, or any cookbook. The hypothetical form may be illustrated out of any number of classic works such as Sir Humphry Davy’s “On Some New Phenomena of Chemical Changes Produced by Electricity” (Philosophic Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 19 Nov. 1807) and Michael Faraday’s “Electricity from Magnetism” (Philosophic Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 24 Nov. 1831).
Jerome J. McGann is the Doris and Henry Dreyfuss Professor of Humanities at the California Institute of Technology. A new book, The Beauty of Inflections: Literary Investigations in Historical Method and Theory (1985), continues the critical projects of his recent books The Romantic Ideology: A Critical Investigation (1983) and A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism (1983). His most recent contribution to Critical Inquiry is “The Religious Poetry of Christina Rossetti” (September 1983).
Even among critics not particularly concerned with detective fiction, Dashiell Hammett’s fourth novel, The Glass Key (1931), is famous for carrying the so-called objective method to almost obsessive lengths: we are never told what the characters are thinking, only what they do and look like. Anyone’s decisions about anyone else’s intentions (which, in this underworld of ward politics, often have life-and-death consequences) are interpretive decisions, dependent on correct presuppositions—on having the right interpretive key. The novel’s title, in part, refers to this kind of key. Ned Beaumont, the protagonist, has to decide how to govern his relationship with Janet Henry; one of his major clues to her mind is a dream that she tells him, a dream that climaxes in an attempt to lock a door against an onslaught of snakes. Dream interpretation is difficult enough to begin with, and Janet Henry compounds that difficulty by telling the dream twice. In the first version, the attempt to lock the door succeeds; in the second, the key turns out to be made of glass and it shatters. Ned Beaumont, in deciding which dream to us as his key, chooses the second (as do most readers)—but it is a choice based on an intuitive mix of experience and faith, knowledge and hunch.
A reader often faces the same difficulties that Ned Beaumont does. Reading a book, too, requires us to make a choice about what key to use to unlock it, and that choice must often be based on an intuitive mix of experience and faith, knowledge and hunch. For example, as I shall show, the experience of reading certain texts—not all, but a significant number of them—is problematic because it depends in part on whether the reader has chosen, before picking them up, to approach them as popular or serious. My argument hinges on two prior claims. First, I contend that one way (but not the only way) of defining genres is to consider them as bundles of operations which readers perform in order to recover the meanings of texts rather than as sets of features found in the texts themselves. To put this crudely but more modishly, genres can be viewed as strategies that readers use to process texts. Second, I argue that popular literature and serious literature can be viewed as broad genre categories.
See also: J. Hillis Miller, The Critic as Host
Peter J. Rabinowitz is associate professor of comparative literature at Hamilton College. He is currently working on a book about literary conventions and is also active as a music critic for such publications as Fanfare and Ovation. His previous contributions to Critical Inquiry are “Truth in Fiction: A Reexamination of Audiences” (Autumn 1977) and “Who Was That Lady? Pluralism and Critical Method” (Spring 1979).
Nothing I wrote in Is There a Text in This Class? has provoked more opposition or consternation than my (negative) claim that the argument of the book has no consequences for the practice of literary criticism.1 To many it seemed counterintuitive to maintain (as I did) that an argument in theory could leave untouched the practice it considers: After all, isn’t the very point of theory to throw light on or reform or guide practice? In answer to this question, I want to say, first, that this claim is unsupportable. Here, I am in agreement with Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels, who are almost alone in agreeing with me and who fault me not for making the “no consequences” argument but for occasionally falling away from it. Those dislike Is There a Text in This Class? tend to dislike “Against Theory” even more, and it is part of my purpose here to account for the hostility to both pieces. But since the issues at stake are fundamental, it is incumbent to begin at the beginning with a discussion of what theory is and is not.
1. See my Is There a Text in This Class?: The Authority of Interpretive Communities (Cambridge, Mass., 1980), p. 370. For a response to the “no consequences” claim, see Mary Louise Pratt, “Interpretive Strategies/Strategic Interpretations: on Anglo-American Reader Response Criticism,” Boundary 2 11 (Fall-Winter 1982-830): 222.
Stanley Fish is the William Kenan, Jr., Professor of English and the Humanities at the Johns Hopkins University. His most recent contributions to Critical Inquiry are “Profession Despise Thyself: Fear and Self-Loathing in Literary Studies” (December 1983) and “Fear of Fish:”A Reply to Walter Davis” (June 1984). The present essay is the concluding chapter of Change (forthcoming, 1985).
My colleague E. D. Hirsch has skillfully developed the consequences for literary interpretation of a “realistic” epistemological position which he formulates as follows: “If we could not distinguish a content of consciousness from its contexts, we could not know any object at all in the world.” Given that premise, it is easy for Hirsch to infer that “without the stable determinacy of meaning there can be no knowledge in interpretation.”1 A lot of people disagree with Hirsch on the latter point, and they look to philosophy for replies to the premise from which it was inferred. But it is not clear where in philosophy they should look: To epistemology? Ethics?2 Philosophy of language? What Jacques Derrida calls “a new logic, … a graphematics of iterability”?3 Where do we find first principles from which to deduce an anti-Hirsch argument?
I want to argue that there is no clear or straight answer to this question and that there need be none. I shall begin by criticizing the strategy used against Hirsch and others by my fellow pragmatists Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels. They think that one can start with philosophy of language and straighten things out by adopting a correct account of meaning. I share their desire to refute Hirsch, their admiration for Stanley Fish, and their view that “theory”—when defined as “an attempt to govern interpretations of particular texts by appealing to an account of interpretation in general”—has got to go (p. 723, and see p. 742). But they want to defend this position by exposing a mistake which they think common to all theory so defined: an error about the relation between meaning and intention. They assert that “what is intended and what is meant are identical” and that one will look for an “account of interpretation in general” only if one fails to recognize this identity (pp. 729, 723). Such failure leads to an attempt to connect meaning and intention (as in Hirsch) or to disconnect them (as in Paul de Man). But such attempts must fail, for they presuppose a break “between language and speech acts” which does not exist (p. 733).
1. E. D. Hirsch, Jr., The Aims of Interpretation (Chicago, 1976), pp. 3, 1.
2. See ibid., where Hirsch offers a “fundamental ethical maxim for interpretation” which, he says, “claims no privileged sanction from metaphysics or analysis” (p. 90). Here and elsewhere Hirsch suggests that it may be ethics rather than epistemology which provides the principles that govern interpretation. There remain other passages, however, in which he retains the view, conspicuous in his earlier writings, that an analysis of the idea of knowledge is the ultimate justification for his approach.
3. Jacques Derrida, “Limited Inc abc … , ” Glyph 2 (1977) : 219.
Richard Rorty is Kenan Professor of Humanities at the University of Virginia. He is the author of Consequences of Pragmatism (Essays: 1972-1980), among other works, and is currently writing a book on Martin Heidegger. His previous contribution to Critical Inquiry, “Deconstruction and Circumvention,” appeared in the September 1984 issue.
We are grateful to Stanley Fish for demonstrating what “Against Theory” had merely assumed, that the only kind of theory worth attacking is the kind which claims to be more than just another form of practice. Some readers have thought that our arguments were directed against all general reflection about literature or criticism. Others have thought that we were resisting the encroachment on literary study of themes derived from politics, or psychoanalysis, or philosophy. These are plausible misreading of our intention, since the term “theory” is indeed sometimes applied to any critical argument marked by historical or aesthetic generalization or by the reading of literature in terms of themes derived from other disciplines. But, as Fish shows, neither empirical generality nor thematic novelty is enough to make an argument theoretical in more than a trivial sense, that is, in a sense that marks it as importantly different in kind from other critical arguments. Theory in a nontrivial sense always consists in the attempt “to stand outside practice in order to govern practice from without,” and this strong (“foundationalist”) kind of theory is the kind whose coherence we deny (p. 742). It is also the kind of theory engaged in by the vast majority of those who consider themselves theorists—including many who might prefer to think of themselves as practicing theory in some weaker sense.
At the conclusion of “Philosophy without Principles,” Richard Rorty appears to join those who think we are attacking theory in its weaker senses as well as in the strong sense just described. He suggests that eliminating the writing and teaching of theory would deprive literary scholars of “an opportunity to discuss philosophy books—as well as novels, poems, critical essays, and so forth—with literature students” (Rorty, p. 464). If this were the only issue between Rorty’s version of pragmatism and ours, our disagreement would come to an immediate end, since nothing could be further from the aims of “Against Theory” than rendering a judgment about what books should be discussed in literary classrooms. But our disagreement runs deeper than debates about the curriculum. It involves, first, a fundamental disagreement about language and, second, an equally fundamental disagreement about the nature and consequences of pragmatism.
Steven Knapp is an assistant professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley; his book Personification and the Sublime: Milton to Coleridge is forthcoming. Walter Benn Michaels, an associate professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, is working on the relation between literary and economic forms of representation in nineteenth-century America. A previous contribution to Critical Inquiry, “Sister Carrie’s Popular Economy,” appeared in the Winter 1980 issue. The authors’ joint contribution to Critical Inquiry, “Against Theory,” and “A Reply to Our Critics,” appeared respectively in the Summer 1982 and June 1983 issues.
At some moment in his life, James Joyce stopped writing Ulysses. If there had been at least one more thing he meant to fuss with or to fix, one more thing he meant to do to the book, he never did it. Ulysses was at that moment complete.
The book reads to me as if it’s “harking back in a retrospective sort of arrangement” from that very moment, as if Joyce anticipated coming to it all along.1 Because he knew it would be a moment in which the book he was writing would become the book he had written, that moment backed up into the writing itself, it dictated to him that the narrator’s sentences must be in the past tense. For Joyce, each phrase of Ulysses was over and done with as soon as he found that he could let it stand as it was. I think it’s for this reason that his characters’ actions and words are narrated as if they too were in the past. “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him by the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned …” (pp. 2-3). The writing which empowers Buck Mulligan to speak and act had at some moment stopped being a present participle for Joyce and begun to be a noun, a piece of writing, that now-realized thing which had been written. It’s therefore in the past tense that the narrative proceeds.
Not that along the way there isn’t interior monologue that offers what a given character thinks, each thought sounding very much as if it’s in the present. “Mr Bloom stood far back, his hat in his hand, counting the bared heads. Twelve. I’m thirteen” (p. 110). The illusion is that right here, right now, autonomously, Bloom is thinking about how many mourners there are at Dignam’s funeral and is trying to establish their number for himself. And yet while the sentence fragments “Twelve” and “I’m thirteen” interrupt the already completed past-tense narrative, the past-tense sentence which introduces the fragments implies an intelligence that has managed to narrate Bloom’s thoughts before Bloom himself has thought them. To narrate that Bloom is “counting the bared heads” in advance of that counting is paradoxically to review what hasn’t yet happened. It implies a knowledge that looks back on each present moment from a point outside of time. And it’s from precisely this point that the narrating intelligence closes off Bloom’s present-tense thoughts with past-tense news: “The coffin dived out of sight, eased down by the men straddled on the gravetrestles” (p. 110).
James McMichael, professor of English at the University of California, Irvine, is completing a manuscript called Reading “Ulysses.” His most recent book of poems is Four Good Things.
In a famous essay, later a chapter in the classic work of feminist criticism The Madwoman in the Attic, called “Milton’s Bogey: Patriarchal Poetry and Women Readers,” Sandra Gilbert argues that “Milton’s bogey” is made deliberately ambiguous by Woolf and may refer to Milton himself, Adam, or Satan. She argues that “the allusion has had no significant development.”3 But, of course, the previous reference to “the large and imposing figure of a gentleman, which Milton recommended for my perpetual adoration” makes it clear that Woolf’s bogey is Milton’s patriarchal god. That she later calls him a “human being” may be wicked and perverse, but is a brilliant undercutting of patriarchal divinity. The allusion is also developed in several ways throughout A Room of One’s Own, and the reader who puts the pieces together has perhaps caught the “little fish” she promises her readers in the beginning. If Milton’s bogey blocks the view of the open sky, her aunt’s legacy “unveiled the sky” to her; money freed her to look at “reality” (Room, p. 39; and see p. 5). The second development of the figure is in the phantom form of “J—H—.” Jane Harrison’s ghostly presence does not block the view of the open sky: “As if the scarf which the dusk had flung over the garden were torn asunder by star or sword—the flash of some terrible reality leaping” (Room, p. 17). Harrison herself, and her great scholarly feminist work on preclassical Greece, is suggested here as having the opposite effect of Milton’s bogey. She unveils reality and is held up as a model for women. The third development of the theme is the “loneliness and riot” of Woolf’s vision of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle—the writer as madwoman, “plunging ever deeper into obscurity and folly”: “Evidently the crazy Duchess became a bogey to frighten clever girls with” (Room, p. 65; emphasis mine). Virginia Woolf had been a clever girl, and she feared mental instability. The woman writer as madwoman certainly frightened her. She saw Margaret Cavendish’s mind “as if some giant cucumber had spread itself all over the roses and carnations in the garden and choked them to death” (Room, p. 65). There is a distinct relationship between Milton’s patriarchal bogey and the giant cucumber. Patriarchy covers sky and earth with phallic images preventing women’s vision and growth. The woman writer’s power is inhibited by the forbidding Christian God who suggests that writing is a male prerogative; and if that doesn’t inhibit her enough, a female bogey is invented to show her the woman writer’s madness and folly.
3. Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (New Haven, Conn., 19790, p. 188; and see pp. 187-212.
Jane Marcus is associate professor of English and director of women’s studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She has edited three collections of essays on Virginia Woolf, a collection of Rebecca West’s socialist-feminist essays, and is presently finishing Liberty, Sorority, Misogyny: Virginia Woolf and the Languages of the Patriarchy.
It must be admitted that there are some of us who “teach” Virginia Woolf and yet seem unable to learn from her. The secret of Virginia’s eminently readable prose style remains hidden from us. It is for this reason that I find it impossibly hard to read everything that Professor Marcus and some of her colleagues produce in such astounding abundance, and that, she may retort, is why she has found it impossible to read my biography of Virginia Woolf. In a sense, she does not need to; she can imagine it and, thus, credit me with the statement that I considered my aunt “a minor British novelist, ranked somewhere below E. M. Forster as a writer of fiction” (p. 489). Seeing that I made it clear from the outset of that biography that I would not attempt to assess the work of Virginia Woolf, seeing that I have been blamed for this abstention (by Professor Marcus herself, if memory serves), and seeing that I have said absolutely nothing at any time that could possibly be construed in this sense, I think that we may well call this a master-stroke of the imagination.
Also it is irrelevant. I accuse her of inaccuracy; she “replies” by asserting that I have bad taste. It seems a rather unconvincing form of defence. In fact, in her “reply,” which must be about as long as the article by which it was engendered, Professor Marcus can find so little in the way of evidence or argument with which to support those contentions which I have criticized that the reader must wade through page after page of completely otiose matter before coming to anything which seems to bear on the matter at hand. At last Professor Marcus tells us that she has written “two long essays in which I did at length and in detail exactly what he does here”; here, then, we come to her answer (p. 493). The reader, who may be somewhat bewildered by so long a preface, may wish to be reminded what there is that needs to be answered. I maintain that Professor Marcus has neglected to notice that Margaret Llewelyn Davis was primarily Leonard Woolf’s friend rather than Virginia’s, that her relationship with Virginia was at times very uneasy, that Virginia was out of sympathy with politically minded women, and that Professor Marcus neglects to notice any of this because she fails to use the evidence of the diaries and the letters. When she does quote from a letter, she completely misunderstands it, just as she fails to understand Virginia’s use of the term “the woman’s republic” (see p. 563).
Quentin Bell is the author of, among other works, Ruskin (1963), Bloomsbury (1969), Virginia Woolf: A Biography (1972), and On Human Finery (1978). His previous contributions to Critical Inquiry include “Art and the Elite” (Autumn 1974), “Bloomsbury and ‘the Vulgar Passions’” (Winter 1979), and “A ‘Radiant’ Friendship”(June 1984).
I am troubled by the temper of E. H. Gombrich’s response, “Representation and Misrepresentation” (Critical Inquiry 11 [December 1984]: 195-201), to my “Ambiguities of Representation and Illusion: An E. H. Gombrich Retrospective” (Critical Inquiry11 [December 1984]: 181-94) and by his preferring not to sense the profound admiration—indeed, the homage—intended by my essay, both for his contributions to recent theory and for their influence upon its recent developments. But I am more troubled by the confusions his remarks may cause in the interpretation of his own work as well as in the judgment of mine. There are important issues at stake, I feel, especially as regards the relation between scientific and aesthetic inquiry.
The very irritated tone of his reaction helps make what I see as my major point: his work has contained a conflict between two Gombrichs—one, the skeptical humanist and, the other, the positive scientist—and with the passing years the second has increasingly sought to obliterate signs of the first, becoming increasingly impatient with any attempt to revive those signs or remind us of their existence. On the other side, since the line of literary criticism with which I associate myself has drawn strength from the first Gombrich, this development in his work and in his attitudes has caused some disappointment.
Murray Krieger is University Professor of English at the University of California. He is the author of many works, including The Tragic Vision, The Classic Vision, Theory of Criticism: A Tradition and its System, Poetic Presence and Illusion: Essays in Critical History and Theory, and Arts on the Level. His previous contributions to Critical Inquiry are “Fiction, History, and Empirical Reality” (December 1974), “Poetic Presence and Illusion: Renaissance Theory and the Duplicity of Metaphor” (Summer 1979), and “The Ambiguities of Representation and Illusion: An E. H. Gombrich Retrospective” (December 1984).
Confusion abounds in Jonathan Kramer’s attempt, in “Can Modernism Survive George Rochberg?” (Critical Inquiry [December 1984]: 341-54), to reply to the issues I raised in my essay “Can the Arts Survive Modernism? (A Discussion of the Characteristics, History, and Legacy of Modernism)” (Critical Inquiry [December 1984]: 317-40). Besides the endemic disarray of his thought process, he confutes and contradicts himself at every turn—either out of his own mouth or out of the mouths of those he quotes to support his position. He is incapable of following his own line of argument either because he doesn’t remember in one part of his paper what he’s said in another or because he doesn’t grasp the logical implications of his own statements sufficiently follow through. Thus he constantly cuts the ground out from under his own feet.
Some specific illustrations are in order. First, let me deal with how he “thinks.” To write prose we perforce must use words; and when we use words, it behooves us to know what they mean. All too often Kramer appears not to know what key words he uses do mean—but he marches blindly on through his own jungle of tangled thoughts. For instance, when he says, “A far better example of reductionism in musical scholarship than Schenker’s multilayered theory is Rochberg’s own article,” he reveals a total lack of understanding his key word, “reductionism” (p. 345). “Reductionism” is the distilled or diminished content left after removing, stripping away, all alternative ways of understanding a situation or problem. That, of course, is what Schenker did in promulgating his theory of tonal practice, and it is clear Kramer understands that much. “Reductionism,” however, hardly describes the presentation of an overview of the impact of modernism on the life of the twentieth century (not only its art and culture but its intellectual, societal, and political aspects as well) which is what my article does.
George Rochberg is the composer of a large body of musical works and the author of a recently published collection of essays, The Aesthetics of Survival, a Composer’s View of Twentieth-Century Music. He recently completed his fifth symphony, on commission from the Chicago Symphony. In 1983 he retired from the University of Pennsylvania as Emeritus Annenberg Professor of the Humanities. His previous contribution to Critical Inquiry, “Can the Arts Survive Modernism? (A Discussion of the Characteristics, History, and Legacy of Modernism),” appeared in the December 1984 issue.