Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Winter 1978

Volume 5 Issue 2
    • 203Peter Viereck
    • Poetry doesn't write about what it writes about. Critics may now agree that this tends to be so, but why? Is it, as here argued, inherently so because of poetry's two or more rhythm-levels? Or is it, as many "explicating" critics imply, noninherently and only recently so because of the two or more diction-levels of the symbolist heritage? If the answer to the latter question is no, then the explicators have brought us to a blind alley by being oversubtle about the ambiguities and ambivalences of diction and undersubtle about those of rhythm. The fact that good prose (not to mention purple "poetic" prose) also has two rhythm-levels is not to the point. The tension between two irregular rhythms, as in prose, is simply not the same as that between one irregularity and one formal, traditionally shared regularity in poetry.


      The half-conscious uncovering of rhythm's hidden language helps explain an ancient truth: unlike a prose essay, a tragic poem or a tragic verse-play may leave the reader feeling exalted while an exalting love poem may leave him mournful. The explanation is not some miraculous "transcending" of tragedy and of the human condition (as if the presumptuous poet were doing God's work for Him better) but the uncovering of a palimpsest layer. What will be needed, from now on, are not generalizations (like this one) but precise trochee-by-iamb-by-spondee analyses (which are exactly what I have begun) of why the relevant passages in King Lear, for example, achieve tragic joy by means of the joy-connoting rhythms beneath the somber words. While translating certain German and Russian poets of our century, I am also making a parallel analysis in parallel languages. My conclusion: the future translator should consult his dictionary less and his ear more (searching not for lilt duplications by metronome but for lilt equivalents by connotation). Poets, then, are not our Shelleyan "unacknowledged legislators" (no more delusions of grandeur on that score) but our unacknowledged kinaesthesia.

      Peter Viereck, professor of European and Russian history at Mount Holyoke College, received the Pulitzer Prize for his book of poems, Terror and Decorum (1948); this and his Conservatism Revisited and The Unadjusted Man have recently been reprinted by Greenwood Press. In a slightly revised version, "Strict Form in Poetry" appears as the appendix in his book of poems, Applewood, for which he has been awarded a fellowship by the Artists Foundation.


      See also: "On the Measure of Poetry" by Howard Nemerov in Vol. 6, No. 2

    • 223Sharon Cameron
    • For Emily Dickinson, perhaps no more so than for the rest of us, there was a powerful discrepancy between what was "inner than the Bone"1 and what could be acknowledged. To the extent that her poems are a response to that discrepancy—are, on one hand, a defiant attempt to deny that the discrepancy poses a problem and, on the other, an admission of defeat at the problem's enormity—they have much to teach us about the way in which language articulates our life. There is indeed a sense in which these poems test the limits of what we might reveal if we tried and also of what, despite our exertions, will not give itself over to utterance. The question of the visibility of interior experience is one that will concern me in this essay, for it lies at the heart of what Dickinson makes present to us. In "The Dream of Communication," Geoffrey Hartman writes: "Art represents a self which is either insufficiently present or feels itself as not presentable."2 On both counts one thinks of Dickinson, for her poems disassemble the body in order to penetrate to the places where the feelings lie as if hidden, and they tell us that bodies are not barriers the way we sometimes think they are. Despite the staggering sophistication with which we discuss complex issues, like Dickinson we have few words, if any, for what happens inside us. Perhaps this is because we have been taught to conceive of ourselves as perfectly inexplicable or, if explicable, then requiring the aid of someone else to scrutinize what we are explicating to validate it. We have been taught that we cannot see for ourselves—this despite the current emphasis on our proprioceptive functions. But Dickinson tells us that we can see. More important, she tells us how to name what we see.


      ·  1. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, ed. Thomas H. Johnson (Cambridge, Mass., 1955), n. 321.

      ·  2. Geoffrey Hartman, "The Dream of Communication," in I. A. Richards: Essays in His Honor, ed. Reuben Brower et al. (New York, 1973), p. 173.

      See also: Sharon Cameron, The Way of Life by Abandonment: Emerson's Impersonal

      Sharon Cameron, associate professor of English at Johns Hopkins University, is currently preparing a theoretical study of the lyric and is examining the relationship between obsession and lyrical structures. The present essay is part of her Lyric Time: Dickinson and the Limits of Genre.

    • 253Fran├žoise Meltzer
    • The prominence and peculiarity of color in French symbolist verse have often been noted. Yet the dominance of color in symbolism is not the result of aesthetic preference or mere poetic technique, as has been previously argued; rather, color functions, with the synaesthetic poetic context of which it is an integral part, as the direct manifestation of a particular metaphysical stance. Color leads to the heart of what symbolism is, for it is the paradigmatic literary expression of a general spiritual crisis—a crisis in epistemology.


      The nineteenth century extended seventeenth-century empiricism—an empiricism which had invented mathematical measurement as the gauge of reality and which resulted in a predilection to see most authentic knowledge as quantifiable. The logical corollary of such a predilection is that all sensory experience is regarded as suspect. Newtonian physics had rationalized the laws of the universe in reducing its properties to atomical structures and laws of motion. Nothing, it seemed, was left unexplained. Those areas of perception which remained unquantifiable were dispelled as illusion or attributed to the necessary limitations of the human mind. The theories of John Locke act as a kind of historical watershed in this regard: they are the classic philosophic expression of the disjunction between sensory experience and knowledge which, in its nineteenth-century versions, would lead to the symbolist revolt.

      See also: Françoise Meltzer, After 1945: Latency as Origin of the Present

      Françoise Meltzer is a professor of French literature and of comparative literature at the University of Chicago. Her previous contribution to Critical Inquiry is the translation of Christian Metz's "Trucage and the Film" (Summer 1977). She is the author of The Trial(s) of Psychoanalysis, Salome and the Dance of Writing, and Hot Property: The Stakes and Claims of Literary Originality.

    • 275Joseph Frank
    • It is obvious that the closer the structure of a narrative conforms to causal-chronological sequence, the closer it corresponds to the linear-temporal order of language. It is now equally obvious, however, that such correspondence is contrary to the nature of narrative as an art form. Indeed, it is clear that all through the history of the novel a tension has existed between the linear-temporal nature of its medium (language) and the spatial elements required by its nature as a work of art. Most of what are known as the "formal conventions" of the novel are an implicit agreement between writer and reader not to pay attention to this disjunction and to overlook the extent to which it exists. Shklovsky provocatively called Tristram Shandy the most "typical" novel in world literature (of course, it is one of the most untypical) because it "laid bare" all the conventions, whose nature as conventions had become imperceptible through long familiarity, employed by the form.

      See also: Joseph Frank, Spatial Form: An Answer to Critics

      Joseph Frank, professor of comparative literature and director of the Christian Gauss seminars in criticism at Princeton University, received the James Russell Lowell Prize of the MLA for Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821-1849, the first volume of his four-volume biography. Frank's original article on spatial form in modern literature appeared in Sewanee Review (Spring, Summer, Autumn 1945); the essay was later revised and incorporated in his The Widening Gyre: Crisis and Mastery in Modern Literature.

    • 291Stephen J. Greenblatt
    • Nevertheless, Marx's essay ["On the Jewish Question"] has a profound bearing upon The Jew of Malta; their conjunction enriches our understanding of the authors; relation to ideology and, more generally, raises fruitful questions about a Marxist reading of literature. The fact that both works use the figure of the perfidious Jew provides a powerful link between Renaissance and modern thought, for despite the great differences to which I have just pointed, this shared reference is not an accident or a mirage. "On the Jewish Question" represents the nineteenth-century development of a late sixteenth-century idea or, more accurately, a late sixteenth-century trope. Marlowe and Marx seize upon the Jew as a kind of powerful rhetorical device, a way of marshalling deep popular hatred and clarifying its object. The Jew is charged not with racial deviance or religious impiety but with economic and social crime, crime that is committed not only against the dominant Christian society but, in less "pure" form, by that society. Both writers hope to focus attention upon activity that is seen as at once alien and yet central to the life of the community and to direct against that activity the anti-Semitic feeling of the audience. The Jews themselves in their real historical situation are finally incidental in these works, Marx's as well as Marlowe's, except insofar as they excite the fear and loathing of the great mass of Christians. It is this privileged access to mass psychology by means of a semimythical figure linked in the popular imagination with usury, sharp dealing, and ruthless cunning that attracts both the sixteenth-century playwright and the nineteenth-century polemicist.1


      ·  1. Anti-Semitism, it should be emphasized, is never merely a trope to be adopted or discarded by an author as he might choose to employ zeugma or eschew personification. It is charged from the start with irrationality and bad faith and only partly rationalized as a rhetorical strategy. Marlowe depicts his Jew with the compulsive cruelty that characterizes virtually all his work, while Marx's essay obviously has elements of a sharp, even hysterical, denial of his religious background. It is particularly tempting to reduce the latter work to a dark chapter in its author's personal history. The links I am attempting to establish with Marlowe or the more direct link with Feuerbach, however, locate the essay in a far wider context. Still, the extreme violence of the latter half of Marx's work and his utter separation of himself from the people he excoriates undoubtedly owe much to his personal situation. It is interesting that the tone of the attack on the Jews rises to an almost ecstatic disgust at the moment when Marx seems to be locating the Jews most clearly as a product of bourgeois culture; it is as if Marx were eager to prove that he is in no way excusing or forgiving the Jews.

      See also: Stephen Greenblatt, What Is the History of Literature?

      Stephen J. Greenblatt is the Class of 1932 Professor of English Literature at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of Sir Walter Raleigh: The Renaissance Man and His Roles, Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare, Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World, and the editor of a collection of essays, New World Encounters.

    • 309Carolyn G. Heilbrun
    • Marriage, in fiction even more than in life, has been the woman's adventure, the object of her quest, her journey's end. Contemporary fiction modulates the formula in one respect: the abandonment of marriage replaces the achievement of it. While it is obvious what these fictional women detest in marriage, it is not always clear what they desire. How, indeed, might clarity be expected about an institution whose success depends so much upon woman's failure at autonomy?


      So the women split: Kinflicks, Small Changes, The Women's Room, Loose Ends, The Oracle—these are merely representative of a long list. What is new in these books is that we are seeing marriage at all—seeing it, moreover, from a woman's point of view. "What about Norm?" the narrator asks in The Women's Room; "Who is he, this shadow man, this figurehead husband?"1 In fact, who Norm is, who all the husbands are, is clear: those who need someone to take care of their domestic, cooking, cleaning, sexual, breeding needs while they are out attending to civilization and their own appreciation of life. Even the least intelligent husbands realize (and some of the most intelligent believe) that a change in marriage profound enough to satisfy the fleeing wives would profoundly alter the foundation of that conservative community, the family. Freud had urged women not to interfere with man in his pursuit of civilization; and this is the way it is, the way men want it to be.


      ·  1. Marilyn French, The Women's Room (New York, 1977), p. 193.

      See also: Carolyn G. Heilbrun, A Response to "Writing and Sexual Difference"

      Carolyn G. Heilbrun, professor of English at Columbia University, is the author of, among other works, Toward a Recognition of Androgyny. Her book, Reinventing Womanhood, includes parts of this present essay.

    • 323Ross Chambers
    • Let us hypothesize that there are three main "registers" of writing: narrative, description and commentary. "Narrative" and "description" are by definition concerned with diachronic and synchronic relationships (independently of whether these are regarded as purely linguistic or as relationships in the "real world"); and it may be said that taken together, they therefore exhaust the inventory of all relationships constituting the "world" our language regards as possible. It is often remarked that there is such an affinity between narration and description that on occasion they are hard to distinguish: narration is the description of an action or change, and description mimes the action of relating items one to the other, and hence may have a narrative function. This solidarity of narration and description justifies their being grouped together as constituting the "topic" of literary discourse. But the function of "commentary," which correlates the (narrative and/or descriptive) text with a context, is to create a different type of relationship, in which makes the narrative/descriptive topic "meaningful." We are thus distinguishing "meaning" and "meaningfulness" on the grounds that "meaning" (le sens) can be understood as the object of semantic analysis (in this case, the diachronic and synchronic relationships of the "topic"), whereas "meaningfulness" (la signification) is the meaning bestowed on a set of relationships by an act of interpretation (i.e., it is distinguishable from the nuclear meaning inherent in the words of a specific language). This type of meaningfulness is what the moral of a La Fontaine fable most characteristically seeks to create. Thus, the two-line commentary segment in Le Chat, la Belette et le petit Lapin:


      Ceci ressemble fort aux débats qu'ont parfois
      Les petits souverains se rapportants aux rois1


      (a) designates the narrative/descriptive relationships established on the fable proper ("ceci"), (b) designates the pragmatic context ("les débats qu'ont parfois . . ."), but also (c) specifies the analogy/homology between the two which makes the text meaningful ("Ceci ressemble fort aux débats"). Meaningfulness in this sense is thus definable as the perception of a text/context relationship.


      ·  1. "This greatly resembles the debates which petty sovereigns have when they refer to kings." [My translation]

      See also: Wright Morris and Wayne C. Booth, The Writing of Organic Fiction: A Conversation

      Ross Chambers, Marvin Felheim Distinguished University Professor of French and Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, is the author of Gérard de Nerval et la poétique du voyage, La Comédie au château, L'Ange et l'automate, "Spirite" de Théophile Gautier, and Room for Maneuver: Reading Oppositional Narrative.

    • 339Earl Miner
    • By a "literary system" we must mean (as with "history") two distinct yet related matters: a discrete and continuous literary history of "occurrences" such as that we designate as English literature; and a continuous set of ideas about what that first system is. To be sure, the first consists in our thought of it, which is to say of literary creations in temporal series. But the literary creations themselves represent a development or, at a minimum, a sequence of examples of literary knowledge or what may be generally termed poems. That temporally serial set of creations of knowledge had individual knowers in its creators, its poets. Our historical knowledge of the poems consists of ideas about their serial, differentiated character, about their relation to each other, and about their relationship to their creators and the times in which they were created. The second sense of a literary system involves what we call criticism, knowledge about that knowledge is synchronic, as we consider such things as epics, tragedies, lyrics, or novels as categories possessing some validity. But this second kind of literary system has also an historical, diachronic character by virtue of the fact that (for example) there were generations before which the novel did not exist or generations during which the novel evolved as a kind of literature whose possibilities were exploited and altered. Without the novel in its history, there can be no history of criticism about the novel. These two varieties of literary system can be designated, then, as literary systems proper and as critical systems. The second does require the existence of the first, in spite of seeming exceptions. We might imagine a new nation wishing to have a literature it does not presently possess. The literature envisioned would imply a poetics prior to the emergent literary system, but the poetics would be borrowed from another literature in which the literary system had predated its critical system.

      See also: Earl Miner, On the Genesis and Development of Literary Systems: Part II

      Earl Miner is Townsend Martin, Class of 1917, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Princeton University. "That Literature is a Kind of Knowledge," his previous contribution to Critical Inquiry, appeared in the Spring 1976 issue. His works include Literary Uses of Typology from the Middle Ages to the Present (of which he is editor and a contributor) and Japanese Linked Poetry. Part II of the present essay appeared in the Spring 1979 issue of Critical Inquiry.

    • 355Robert Alter
    • One of the chief difficulties we encounter as modern readers in perceiving the artistry of biblical narrative is precisely that we have lost most of the keys to the conventions out of which it was shaped. The professional Bible scholars have not offered much help in this regard, for their closest approximation to the study of convention is form criticism, which is set on finding recurrent regularities of pattern rather than the manifold variations upon a pattern that any system of literary convention elicits; moreover, form criticism uses these patterns for excavative ends to support hypotheses about the social functions of the text, its historical evolution, and so forth. . . . The most crucial case in point is the perplexing fact that in biblical narrative more or less the same story often seems to be told two or three or more times about different characters, or sometimes even about the same character in different sets of circumstances. Three times a patriarch is driven by famine to a southern region where he pretends that his wife is his sister, narrowly avoids a violation of the conjugal bond by the local ruler, and is sent away with gifts. Twice Hagar flees into the wilderness from Sarah's hostility and discovers a miraculous well, and that story itself seems only a special variation of the recurrent story of bitter rivalry between a barren, favored wife and a fertile co-wife or concubine. That situation, in turn, suggests another oft-told tale in the Bible, of a woman long barren who is vouchsafed a divine promise of progeny, whether by God himself or through a divine messenger or oracle, and who then gives birth to a hero.

      See also: Carlo Ginzburg, Latitude, Slaves, and the Bible: An Experiment in Microhistory

      Robert Alter, professor of Hebrew and comparative literature at the University of California at Berkeley, is the author of, among other works, Partial Magic: The Novel as a Self-Conscious Genre and Defenses of the Imagination. He has written a general literary study of biblical narrative, of which this essay forms a chapter.

    • 369Robert L. Carringer
    • The best-known controversy in film criticism of recent years has been over the authorship of the Citizen Kane script. Pauline Kael first raised the issue in a flamboyant piece in The New Yorker in 1971. Contrary to what Orson Welles would like us to believe, Kael charged, the script for the film was actually not his work but almost wholly the work of an all-but-forgotten figure, one of Hollywood's veteran screenwriters, Herman J. Mankiewicz. . . . The first two drafts of the Citizen Kane script were written by Herman Mankiewicz and John Houseman in seclusion in the desert at Victorville, California, during March, April, and May 1940. Officially, Houseman was there as an editor. But part of his job was to ride herd on Mankiewicz, whose drinking habits were legendary and whose screenwriting credentials unfortunately did not include a reputation for seeing things through. Detailed accounts of the Victorville interlude have been given by Houseman in his autobiography and by Kael in "Raising Kane." There was constant interchange between Victorville and Hollywood, with Houseman going in to confer on the script and Welles sending up emissaries (and going up on occasion himself) and regularly receiving copies of the work in progress. Welles in turn was working over the draft pages with the assistance of his own secretary, Katherine Trosper, and handing the revised screenplay copy in its rough state over to Amalia Kent, a script supervisor at RKO noted for her skills at breaking this kind of material down into script continuity form, who was readying it for the stenographic and various production departments.1


      ·  1. John Houseman, Run-Through: A Memoir (New York, 1972), pp. 445-61. "Raising Kane," pp. 29-39. Amalia Kent had impressed Welles with her work on the problematic first-person script for his unproduced Heart of Darkness film, and she worked directly with him on various script supervision capacities on other of his RKO projects, including The Magnificent Ambersons and the unproduced Smiler with the Knife. She also continued as the script supervisor throughout the shooting of Citizen Kane and prepared the cutting reports for the film's editor, Robert Wise. Kael gives the impression that Rita Alexander, Herman Mankiewicz's private secretary, was performing all these specialized studio functions herself.

      See also: Robert L. Carringer, Orson Welles and Gregg Toland: Their Collaboration on "Citizen Kane"

      Robert L. Carringer is associate professor of English and cinema studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the author (with Barry Sabath) of Ernst Lubitsch. His forthcoming edition of The Jazz Singer will begin the Warner Brothers script series. "Citizen Kane, The Great Gatsby, and Some Conventions of American Narrative," his previous contribution to Critical Inquiry, appeared in the Winter 1975 issue.

    • 401Kenneth Burke
    • Fredric Jameson's exacting essay, "The Symbolic Interference; or, Kenneth Burke and Ideological Analysis" Critical Inquiry 4 [Spring 1978]: 507-23) moves me to comment. I shall apply one of my charges of my title to him, he applies the other to me. The matter is further complicated by the fact that there is a distance at which they are hard to tell apart. For any expression of something implies a repression of something else, and any statement that goes only so far is analyzable as serving to forestall a statement that goes farther. And I can't go as far as I think if I share with Jameson what I take to be his over-investment in the term "ideology." . . . the line between the implicit and the explicit being so wavering, there are many cases where the distinctions between conscious and unconscious become correspondingly blurred. But the kind of methodological repression (or variant of the Quietus) that is implicit in Jameson's hermeneutic model can be wasteful beyond necessity. For it encourages him to be so precociously prompt in his "rereading" of a text that he doesn't allow his readers to read a single sentence of it. He doesn't tell them what Sinn, in its own terms, my text has on the subject of "ideology," "mystification," and the "unconscious." Instead, he cuts corners and settles for a report of the Bedeutung (see Jameson, p. 516) that it has for him. In this case the procedure is particularly wasteful because Jameson is highly intelligent, and if it weren't for the bad leads of his models he's the last man in the world who would have to be so bluntly inaccurate as he is on this occasion. I believe that he could put me through quite a trying ordeal if he could have but kept on the subject and pursued me accordingly.


      Kenneth Burke's previous contributions to Critical Inquiry are "Dancing with Tears in My Eyes" (September 1974), "Post-Poesque Derivation of a Terministic Cluster" (Winter 1977), "(Nonsymbolic) Motion/(Symbolic) Action" (Summer 1978), and a hermeneutic fantasy, "A Critical Load . . ." (Autumn 1978). He would like us to mention that William Willeford, the interlocutor of a section in "(Nonsymbolic) Motion/(Symbolic) Action," is a professor of English at the University of Washington.

    • 417Fredric R. Jameson
    • I don’t conceive of this as a debate with Burke, but if I did, I would be tempted to use the old debater's formula: there are many ways in which the word ideology can be used, most of them defensible, but there are two ways in which the word ought never be used, and that is to designate "value systems" on one hand or "false consciousness" on the other. The first meaning folds us back into the perspective of the history of ideas, which it was the aim of the concept of ideology to spring us out of in the first place. The second betrays a vulgar Marxist approach to culture which it is the task of any genuinely contemporary Marxism to liquidate: indeed, from the Lukács of History and Class Consciousness to the Frankfurt School, from Sartre to Althusser and Macherey, there are a number of very different Marxian conceptions of ideology available today which have nothing in common with the old notion of ideology as a "false consciousness." And since I have gone this far, I will add something I didn't mention in my essay, that when Burke documents his own use of the Marxian category of ideology, unfortunately he turns out most often to have meant our old friend "false consciousness," so unavoidable a part of the baggage of thirties Marxism.


      Fredric R. Jameson is the editor, with Stanley Aronowitz and John Brenkmam, of Social Text and the author of Marxism and Form, The Prison House of Language, and, forthcoming, The Political Unconscious: Studies in the Ideology of Form. "The Symbolic Interference; or, Kenneth Burke and Ideological Analysis" Critical Inquiry 4 [Spring 1978]: 507-23) was presented in an earlier version at the English Institute in September 1977 as one of a group of studies in reevaluation of the work of Kenneth Burke.

    • 423Lowry Nelson, Jr.
    • Early in February 1978, we received the following letter from Lowry Nelson, Jr., professor of comparative literature at Yale University:


      Regarding the exchange between Professors Martin ("Literary Critics and Their Discontents: A Response to Geoffrey Hartman") and Hartman ("The Recognition Scene of Criticism") in Critical Inquiry 4 (Winter 1977): 397-416, I would like to comment on the use of the institutional adjective "Yale." Labels are naturally sticky and attaching them is a habit and for a time a convenience. It would be unfortunate if the label that reads "the Yale group" or "the Yale critics" were to gain unchallenged currency. So far as I can see, there is nothing that could be called a "school" of criticism here and certainly there is no indoctrination of students of some touted orthodoxy. In literary criticism there is still, and I am confident there will continue to be, a great range of views and interests discussed generally with amicable forthrightness. Versions of Hegel and Freud, revivals of rhetoric, criticism as "literature," and etymological dabbling are not so very new or so very local. This still enlightened academic grove has not and will not become a lucus a non lucendo.