Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Summer 1979


Volume 5 Issue 4
    • 597Murray Krieger
    • Our usual view of the Renaissance poetic, as we derive it from the explicit statements which we normally cite, sees it primarily as a rhetorical theory which is essentially Platonic in the universal meanings behind individual words, images, or fictions. Accordingly, poetic words, images, or fictions are taken to be purely allegorical, functioning as arbitrary or at most as conventional signs: each word, image, or fiction is seen as thoroughly dispensable, indeed interchangeable with others, to be used just so long as we can get beyond it to the ultimate meaning which it presumably signifies. This rather simple—if not simplistic—semiology leaves the body of poetry as empty as modern post-Saussurean linguistics often leaves the body of language. By treating all poetic devices as transparent elements through which various universal "truths" are revealed, the rhetorical/allegorical theory converts all the poet's dispositions of words into devices of persuasion on the service of a function higher than that of poetry. Such is the way that, for example, a conservative, widely influential theorist like Scaliger clearly formulated the principle. And for as careful a commentator on Renaissance imagery as Rosemund Tuve, these are the farthest reaches of the Renaissance poetic; she argues that any more subtle a claim is merely the consequence of the modern mind trying anachronistically to sophisticate an older tradition. Her examination of explicit statements by major Renaissance writers on poetics finds reinforcement in the logic of Petrus Ramus as she extends it to a total stylistics, or even to a linguistics.1

       

      ·  1. Rosemund Tuve, Elizabethan and Metaphysical Imagery: Renaissance Poetic and Twentieth-Century Critics (Chicago, 1947).

      See also: Murray Krieger, The Ambiguities of Representation and Illusion: An E. H. Gombrich Retrospective

      Murray Krieger, University Professor of English and director of The Irvine School of Criticism and Theory at the University of California at Irvine, is the author of, among other works, The Tragic Vision, The Classic Vision, and, most recently, Theory of Criticism: A Tradition and its System. The present essay is part of his book, Poetic Presence and Illusion: Essays in Critical History and Theory. "Fiction, History, and Empirical Reality," his previous contribution to Critical Inquiry, appeared in the Winter 1974 issue.

    • 621Peter Schwenger
    • Is there really such a thing as a masculine style of writing? What are its characteristics and why just these characteristics? Can we distinguish the masculine style from the explicit masculine content? The writers I will examine in this context are necessarily a selection from the number of those who might be included. They are all twentieth-century authors. Perhaps, as Woolf suggests in A Room of One's Own, it is because of the beginnings of the women's movement in the preceding century that "virility has now become self-conscious."1 At any rate there seems to be little explicit questioning of the male role, in literature or outside it, until our own century. I do not mean to suggest, however, that these writers only question the received images of maleness; often they set out to validate those images or, through such images, to validate themselves. Their explorations of maleness are not abstract but intensely individual. They are not straightforward but riddled with contradictions and paradoxes. As a result, it is difficult to extract didactic points from their works. Always knowledge is rooted in experience and inseparable from it. The masculine mode is above all an attempt to render a certain maleness of experience.

       

      ·  1. Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own (1928; New York, 1963), p. 105.

      See also: Peter Schwenger, Writing the Unthinkable

      Peter Schwenger, assistant professor of English at Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax, has written Phallic Critiques, which examines the relation between masculinity and literary styles.

       

      See also: "Virginia Woolf's Criticism: A Polemical Preface" by Barbara Currier Bell and Carol Ohmann in Vol. 1, No. 2

    • 635Moody E. Prior
    • The character of Tom has the proportions of a mythic figure. His story has little of the melodrama of the secondary plot for his heroism in meeting the trials of slavery is manifested not in outward risks and adventures but in inner strength. In Simon Legree, Tom's final adversary, Stowe provides a perfect antithesis, an ultimate image of what slavery must do to the master who takes advantage of his position and uses his power without restraint; for Legree is an ambitious Vermonter, not a Southern, an owner, not an overseer, and a product of the raw, final phase of slavery in the cotton plantations of the deep South. Legree bends every effort to brutalize Tom as though of necessity to prove that he and the South are right about Negroes and slavery, and Tom remains firm in his humanity and so disproves the sordid myth of his oppressor. It is Legree who is dehumanized by the institution of slavery. Tom emerges from the struggle as an example not simply of a black Christian slave, but of a heroic man in the face of intimidating and humiliating power.

      See also: Tommie Shelby, The Ethics of Uncle Tom's Children

      Moody E. Prior, emeritus professor of English and former dean of the graduate school of Northwestern University, is the author of The Language of Tragedy, Science and the Humanities, and The Drama of Power-Studies in Shakespeare's History Plays.

    • 651Strother Purdy
    • In serious art, where the best talents of each generation work, we have seen the elimination of didacticism, moral lessons, and the sentimentality so characteristic of the preceding century; in their place we find the celebration of dryness, acerbity, irony, withdrawal from emotion, balance in tension, the reduction of the authorial and, finally, the human presence: "empty words, corresponding to the void in things."1 Literature as practiced and as taught in the schools has tended toward the allusive and the elusive, intellectual games, the pastiche, the echo, the comment on the comment. Brought into relation with twentieth-century political extremism, it has given a large allowance to the grotesque subject and mirrored that subject in an undermining of human consciousness, that naïvely assumed constant that enables moral judgment. While few regret the death of Emmeline Grangerford, it may be that she died only to bequeath us Oskar Mazerath. The corrective swing taken by our literature has given us harpsichord exercises in response to megalithic politics, and "tragedy," the name of our highest inherited literary form, a form we no longer pursue, becomes a devalued label to paste in traffic accidents and on My Lai. Like the Germans who found it "poor form" to talk about certain kinds of killing,2 we may be in a position where our aesthetics works to block our morality.

       

      ·  1. Norman O. Brown, Love's Body (New York, 1966), p. 259.

      ·  2. Raul Hilberg cites in relation to this point the 4 October 1943 speech of Heinrich Himmler on the extermination of the Jews: "It was with us, thank God, an inborn gift of tactfulness, that we have never conversed about this matter, never spoken about it. Every one of us was horrified, and yet every one of us knew that we could do it again if it were ordered and if it were necessary" (The Destruction of the European Jews [Chicago, 1961], p. 652.

      See also: Strother B. Purdy, Technopoetics: Seeing What Literature Has to Do with the Machine

      Strother Purdy, professor of English at Marquette University, is the author of The Hole in the Fabric: Science, Contemporary Literature, and Henry James and articles of literary and film criticism. He has contributed "CRITICAL RESPONSE: Reply to Lawrence W. Hyman" (Summer 1980) to Critical Inquiry.

    • 663Mark Spilka
    • Whether in her life or in her work, however, this difficulty with grieving recurs too often, and too insistently, to be passed off as a matter of artistic temperament. Its presence in her experimental fiction—elegies for her dead brother in To the Lighthouse, the taboo on grieving in Mrs. Dalloway—suggests rather a compulsive need to cope with death. Indeed, while writing To the Lighthouse she had even thought of supplanting "novel" as the name for her books with something like "elegy." Perhaps "abortive elegies for our times" would be more appropriate since she refuses in these books to deal with death and grieving in any direct or open way, and her elegiac impulse—by which writer and reader alike may normally work out grief through formal measures—is delayed, disguised, or thwarted, at best only partially appeased. Her refusal seems to me characteristic of our times, or of that struggle against Victorian odds which helped to make our times.

      See also: Christine Froula, Pechter's Specter: Milton's Bogey Writ Small; Or, Why Is He Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

      Mark Spilka, professor of English at Brown University and editor of Novel, is the author of works on Lawrence, Dickens, and Kafka. The present essay will be a chapter in his Virginia Woolf's Quarrel with Grieving.

       

      See also: "Virginia Woolf's Criticism: A Polemical Preface" by Barbara Currier Bell and Carol Ohmann in Vol. 1, No. 2

    • 683John Paul Russo
    • "Hard task to analyze a soul. . . ." We would do well to let Wordsworth's comment guide our questioning. Have we avoided "a mystical and idle sense" of an influence? Have we lost our way tracking the "most obvious and particular thought?" Have our conclusions been "in the words of reason deeply weighed?" We might well wonder with such a supreme influence on a life that is firmly stamped by independence and originality, a source of an immense influence in itself. [G. E.] Moore's philosophy provided the young [I. A.] Richards with terms and concepts for his psychological aesthetics and criticism, though Richards was not long in reacting to and passing beyond this influence. More enduring was the influence on the nature of meaning, on modes of comprehending through language analysis—more enduring and pervasive, though less traceable. Then, there is Moore's example of employing multiple hypotheses to which, in his application, Richards would give the name of complementarity. Lastly, Moore's personal influence reached deeply into the student's character, and if the influence did not initiate, it fortified and still fortifies a quest for sincerity, a Socratic quest for which we can scarcely find a "beginning."

      See also: John Paul Russo, I. A. Richards in Retrospect

      John Paul Russo is associate professor of English at Camden College, Rutgers University, the editor of I. A. Richards' Complementarities: Uncollected Essays, and the author of Alexander Pope: Tradition and Identity.

    • 713Robert McGregor
    • So far my examples have illustrated purely descriptive and evaluative uses of "work of art," but my main claim is that most uses are not pure. Take a controversial example. Christo recently hung a huge, bright orange curtain between the sides of a canyon in Rifle Gap, Colorado. The curtain stretched all the way across the canyon, filled the canyon from top to bottom, and had a hole cut out for the road at the base of the canyon to pass through. There was a good deal of controversy in Colorado at the time about whether the curtain was a work of art. . . . First, the curtain was not in a traditional medium, and this alone was enough to disqualify it as a work of art for some people. Still, it was an artifact, it was intended for public observation and contemplation, and it had no essential utilitarian function. That it met these criteria there could be no doubt, and this was enough for some to consider it a work of art. Others, however, required more before deciding. Of those, some said that a great deal of skill was required to produce it; that it definitely had significant formal qualities—especially the dramatic contrast in line and color between it and the completely natural surroundings; that it was certainly a creative endeavor; and that it was most conducive to aesthetic experience—comparable to certain natural phenomena. For these people it was, without a doubt, a work of art for both descriptive and evaluative reasons. Others, however, were much less charitable. They thought that if the production required skill at all, it was engineering not artistic skill; that not only did it not have significant formal qualities, it was formally trivial and sterile; that perhaps it was novel, but to call it creative was beyond the pale; that far from being conducive to aesthetic experience, it was a blight upon the landscape. Therefore, it was not a work of art. Finally, there were those people who were not sure which characteristics to attribute to the Christo production and were therefore uncertain whether it was a work of art.

      See also: Wayne C. Booth, “Preserving the Exemplar": Or, How Not to Dig Our Own Graves

      Robert McGregor is an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Denver and is the author of several articles on aesthetics.

    • 725Rawdon Wilson
    • It is not possible to face a text and announce "I shall now talk about character" in the same way that one might say "I shall now talk about plot" or "metaphor." For several reasons—not least of which is the absence of a thoughtful critical tradition—character is much more difficult to talk about than most other literary concepts. Most of what has been written on the subject of character, whether in recent years or in the distant past, can be seen to come under one of four possible headings. I do not think of these classifications as being mutually exclusive, although the emphasis upon one aspect of the problem of character probably tends to pull one towards a definite position.

       

      Briefly, these positions are: (1) that characters are products of the author's mind—memories, encapsulations of his experience or else (one might say) split-off slivers of his mind or self; (2) that characters are functions of the text in which they appear—embodiments of theme and idea—to be considered much as tokens, pieces, or counters in a game; (3) that characters are entirely artificial, constructs to be analyzed in terms of the compositional techniques that have gone into their making; (4) that characters are, for the purposes of critical reading, to be considered as if they were actual persons, and the emphasis in criticism—its sole business, in fact—to discuss the response they engender in an intelligent reader.

      See also: Martin Price, People of the Book: Character in Forster's "A Passage to India"

      Rawdon Wilson, associate professor of English at the University of Alberta, has written widely on English and Spanish literature. His previous contribution to Critical Inquiry, "On Character: A Reply to Martin Price," appeared in the Autumn 1975 issue. The present essay was originally presented in an earlier form at the University of Melbourne and at the University of Alberta.

    • 751Reuven Tsur
    • I have based my psychological hypotheses on studies in perception and in personality. Research in these two areas began independently, but by the late forties the supposedly unconnected processes came to be seen as different aspects of one process. For instance, a low tolerance for perceptual ambiguity and cognitive dissonance was found to be significantly correlated with lack of emotional responsiveness, dogmatism, and authoritarianism; conversely, a high tolerance for perceptual ambiguity and cognitive dissonance was found to be significantly correlated with tolerance of emotional ambivalence, openness to new experience, and a liberal world view.1 Later studies, primarily those conducted in the sixties, then established strong correlations between these findings and information-processing styles.

       

      Information processing involves three stages: first, stimuli are selected from the environment (in our case, the "environment" will be that of poems); these stimuli are then arranged into "dimensions"; finally, if two or more dimensions result, they are compared and/or combined according to certain rules. H. M. Schroder and his colleagues (upon whose work I have drawn liberally) have established correlations between personality styles and styles of information processing.2 For example, an intolerant personality—that is, one with a low integration index—"identifies and organizes stimuli in a fixed way, and the rules derived from existing schemata are explicit in defining this one way" (p. 177). What psychologists call an "abstract personality" and identify in terms of "flexibility" or "tolerance of ambiguity"—what in literary studies is most conveniently called "negative capability"—is not necessarily characterized as lacking rules but rather as possessing a greater number of conflicting rules on a lower level which may be accommodated by rules on a higher level.

       

      ·  1. See Jerome S. Bruner and David Krech, eds., Perception and Personality, 2nd ed. (New York, 1968) and Robert R. Blake and Glenn V. Ramsey, eds., Perception: An Approach to Personality (New York, 1951). Although, as Else Frenkel-Brunswick says, "rigidity in one respect may go with flexibility in another," she also adds: "There is some indication that in the case of distinct intolerance of emotional ambivalence one may as a rule be able to locate at least some aspects of intolerance of cognitive ambiguity although these may often be more apparent on a higher level than that of perception proper" ("Intolerance of Ambiguity as an Emotional and Perceptual Personality Variable," in Perception and Personality, pp. 139 and 140.) The present essay, since it is one section of a projected larger study, deals with the issues inherent in this approach in only a limited fashion. (For a related essay, see my "Two Critical Attitudes: Quest for Certitude and Negative Capability," College English 36 [March 1975]: 776-88.) One could, for instance, quote whole essays in this branch of psychology dealing with ambiguity and point to their relevance for some aspects of literary study and the teaching of literature. Ambiguity, of course, is also a central term in New Criticism. See William Empson, Seven Types of Ambiguity (New York, 1930) and Ernst Kris and Abraham Kaplan, "Aesthetic Ambiguity," in Psychoanalytic Explorations in Art, ed. Kris (New York, 1951), pp. 243-64.

      ·  2. H. M. Schroder, M. J. Driver, and S. Streufert, "Levels of Information Processing," in Thought and Personality, ed. Peter B. Warr (Harmondsworth, 1970), pp. 174-91. All citations to this work will appear in the text.

       

      Reuven Tsur, senior lecturer in Hebrew literature at Tel-Aviv University, is the author of several books in Hebrew on medieval and modern Hebrew poetry and, in English, A Perception-Oriented Theory of Metre.

    • 761Philipp P. Fehl
    • Capricci are nonsense drawings that delineate an elusive but inevitable sense behind or, better, within the palpable nonsense of the elementary proposition of a drawing; they are capers on a tightrope stretched between the poles of pathos and the ridiculous. We shall succeed in not falling only if we step forward boldly and know not only what we are doing but also what we are up against in the making of a picture as well as in living in the world. For the world, in its yawning impudence of death and the dance of blind eagerness, ambition, and noisy speechlessness, makes us look to art not, or not necessarily, to escape from the world (even if escaping is a birthright) but rather to learn how to take its measure. . . . There is a painting ["St. Vincent Ferrer Preaching"] joined to the Passion cycle in S. Polo which demonstrates as well as any paradox ever will how Giandomenico joined piety and irony in his religious art without curtailing the glory of either. He arrives, as it were, at a God-fearing irony. We see St. Vincent Ferrer preaching. He speaks so eloquently, so convincingly in praise of the divine truth, that light shines forth from him and angel's wings grow on his shoulders. Fascinated by the miracle but even more so by the saint's words, his audience sits spellbound at his feet; in the foreground, however, sits a youth, a fop perhaps, gorgeously dressed, with a singular smile on his face, his hand musingly poised to his cheek, who looks at us quizzically. He is the link between us and the miracle. "Can you believe it?" says the smile, and perhaps "I did not—and yes—how can you now not believe it, you need but look - as I did - for there it is!" It is, I think, the face of one who knows about the truth of the absurd and its inner logic. Credo quia absurdum: if it were not so, we could prove the existence of God by feeding data into a computer, and there would be many believers, whose faith, in turn, deserved but little credit. Needless to say, perhaps, the face that so speaks to us in laughter joined to wonder is a self-portrait.1

       

      ·  1. In S. Polo the painting of St. Vincent Ferrer Preaching hangs opposite a matching picture of The Finding of the True Cross. There is a beautiful young woman on the right who looks at us beseechingly and with her right hand points at the cross. Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo who looks out of St. Vincent Ferrer Preaching cannot help but see this lady (who may be a portrait figure) and be affected by her earnest gesture. For a reproduction of the painting, see Maruz, G. D. Tiepolo, plate 22.

      See also: Philipp Fehl, Turner's Classicism and the Problem of Periodization in the History of Art

      Philipp P. Fehl is a professor in the department of art and design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He has edited (with Raina Fehl and Keith Aldrich) Franciscus Junius: The Literature of Classical Art. His previous contribution to Critical Inquiry, "Turner's Classicism and the Problem of Periodization in the History of Art," appeared in the Autumn 1976 issue; the present essay was delivered in an earlier version at Stanford University in 1976 and is included in his collection of essays, Art and Mortality. His capricci, Birds with Titles, were exhibited in a one-man show at Kenyon College.