As you might guess, the words goodness, truth, and beauty are not of heavy poetic value today. Terms of concept may be stressed again someday, and maybe soon, but at the moment have gone out of poetry in favor of more concreteness, more imagery, more connotative suggestion, less effect of the naming and labeling virtues, which Ezra Pound and other twentieth-century leaders have told us not to use. But actually these terms of abstract concept were lessened in major usage in poetry long before the twentieth century. They had flourished in a setting of kings and courts. The love poetry, the political poetry, the philosophic poetry not only dealt directly with truth and goodness but used them constantly for evaluative commentary of other subjects. People, as well as moral issues, were good; lovers, as well as propositions, were true . . . Love and honor, good and true, these were terms of value in which poetry worked so strongly that a large proportion of its reference was limited to these alone, and so thoroughly that there was not a poet in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries who did not share in this emphasis.
Josephine Miles is a poet, critic, and University Professor of English at Berkeley. Her works of criticism include The Vocabulary of Poetry, The Continuity of Poetic Language, Eras and Modes in English Poetry, Style and Proportion, and Poetry and Change. She is also the author of a number of books of poems, from Lines at Intersection (1939) to Poems 1930-60, Kinds of Affection (1967), and To All Appearances (1975).
The front page of the [New York] Times on July 16, 1951, serves to outline, quickly enough, the situation of the world into which The Catcher in the Rye made such a successful and relatively well-publicized entrance. The main action of the world, the chief events of its days were occurring within a framework of struggle between two systems of life, two different ways of organizing human being socially, politically, economically. The opposition between East and West, between socialist and capitalist, was determining what happened in Kaesong, Budapest, Madrid, Teheran, Washington, New York. Name-calling the Administration, Republicans threw out the term "socialist," and the bid for millions to build schools in the five boroughs of New York would finally have to dovetail with allocations of taxes for defense.
The review of The Catcher in the Rye in the back pages of the Times made no mention of any of this. The kind of reality reported on the front page belonged to one world; the new novel was about to be assimilated into another, into the world of culture, which was split from politics and society. And this separation repeated itself in other reviews: typically, they did not mention the framework of world history contemporary with the novel; they did not try to relate Catcher to that framework even to the extent of claiming that there was only a partial relationship or complaining, however simplistically, that there was none. Our concern from here on will be to try to sketch what reviewers and what academic critics after them did see in the novel and what they might have seen in it. We are interested in the conceptual frameworks, the alternatives to history, they used to respond to and interpret Catcher as they passed it on to its millions of lay readers.
Carol Ohmann is currently working on a book about Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf. Her previous contribution to Critical Inquiry, "Virginia Woolf's Criticism: A Polemic Preface" (with Barbara Currier Bell), appeared in the December 1974 issue. Richard Ohmann's most recent book is English in America: A Radical View of the Profession. Both are professors in the department of English at Wesleyan University, and contributed "CRITICAL RESPONSE: Universals and the Historically Particular" to Critical Inquiry in the Summer 1977 issue.
The first and preliminary part of this discussion examines Todorov's remark, in his article "Structural Analysis of Narrative" (Novel 3, no. 1 [Fall, 1969]), on certain tales in the Decameron. These are advanced as dealing with a "concrete problem" which "illustrates" what Todorov "conceive[s] to be the structural approach to literature." The second part (Sections II-V) offers an alternative analysis of the Decameron tales. The third part comprises some observations, from a similar point of view, on Crime and Punishment. The anterior purpose of the whole discussion is to identify at least some points where insights about "structure," in a fairly strict sense, seem to bear genuinely upon the insights of the literary critic.
John Holloway, Professor of Modern English at the University of Cambridge, is the author of, among others, The Victorian Sage, The Charted Mirror, The Story of the Night, Blake: The Lyric Poetry, The Proud Knowledge, Planet of Winds, and five volumes of verse. His previous contribution to Critical Inquiry, "Narrative Structure and Text Structure," appeared in the March 1975 issue.
The story of Ariadne has, as is the way with myths, its slightly asymmetrical echoes along both the narrative lines which converge in her marriage to Dionysus. Daedalus it was who told Ariadne how to save Theseus with the thread. Imprisoned by Minos in his own labyrinth, he escapes by flight, survives the fall of Icarus, and reaches Sicily safely. Daedalus is then discovered by Minos when he solves the puzzle posed publicly by Minos, with the offer of a reward to the solver: How to run a thread through all the chambers and intricate windings of a complex seashell? Daedalus pierces the center of the shell, ties a thread to an ant, puts the ant in the pierced hole, and wins the prize when the ant emerges at the mouth of the shell. Thread and labyrinth, thread intricately crinkled to and fro as the retracing of the labyrinth which defeats the labyrinth but makes another intricate web at the same time—pattern is here superimposed on pattern, like the two homologous stories themselves.
See also: J. Hillis Miller, The Critic as Host
J. Hillis Miller is Gray Professor of Rhetoric and chairman of the department of English at Yale. He is the author of Charles Dickens: The World of His Novels, The Disappearance of God, Thomas Hardy: Distance and Desire, Fiction and Repetition, and a study of narrative terminology, called Ariadne's Thread, of which his essay in this issue of Critical Inquiry is a part. His contributions to Critical Inquiry are "The Critic as Host" (Spring 1977) and "Theory and Practice: Response to Vincent Leitch" (Summer 1980).
On the fictional level, La Route des Flandres deploys a world in the process of complete disintegration. The manifestly privileged situation is the debacle of the French army in 1940 in which a number of the novel's protagonists are involved: George, the narrator; his cousin, Captain de Reixach; Iglésia, previously the Captain's jockey, now his orderly; Blum, Wack, and their horses. The havoc wrought by the military debacle can be subdivided into five categories.
With the dissociation and decimation of the army . . . and the disintegration of the discipline which had consolidated it . . . an entire military order is in the course of demolition.
The breakdown of the military organization is accompanied by a parallel dissolution of the social order. Scattered along the roads, the civilians have lost their essential function, their trade. And, in an incident which occurs in front of the captain, when a peasant threatens the deputy mayor with his hunting rifle, we detect a direct reversal of the civic order.
In the mechanical order, the all but dismembered automobiles . . . and the dismantlement of their motors contribute to the general tide of dilapidation and decay.
The spatial order, represented here by the traditional military space, endowed with significance and hierarchically divided into front and rear, becomes depolarized with the disappearance of the battle lines and the inextricable entanglement of the two armies . . .
The temporal order, the chronological arrangement of events, is subject to a similar vitiation.
Jean Ricardou is equally well known for his fiction, including L'Observatoire de Cannes (Les Editions de Minuit, 1961), La Prise de Constantinople (Minuit, 1965), Les Lieux-dits (Gallimard, 1969), and his criticism, including Problèmes du Nouveau Roman (Le Seuil, 1967), Pour une Theorie du Nouveau Roman (Le Seuil, 1971), and Le Nouveau Roman (Le Seuil, 1973)."ARTISTS ON ART: Birth of a Fiction" appeared in the Winter 1977 issue of Critical Inquiry. Erica Freiberg regularly translates Jean Ricardou's works. She holds degrees in French and Italian, philosophy and modern literature from the University of Paris (Sorbonne) and the University of Geneva.
It was the general practice until not at all long ago (and in some quarters it is still the practice) to look at Turner as one of the moderns, if not as one of the founding fathers of modern art. He was a man straddling the fence between two periods, but he was looking forward. In a history of art that marches through time, forever endorsing what is about to be forgotten, wrapping up, as it were, one style to open eagerly the package of the next, such a position is most enviable for, no matter where the times may be going, it is a hallmark of greatness to be ahead of one's time. There were things to be explained, of course, Turner himself, a keen pessimist, did not approved of the future and had little use for the present.1 His love of art was schooled on Reynolds' Discourses, and he remained loyal to them; his poets were Thomson and Pope and, among contemporaries, the rather frigid but delicate Samuel Rogers, a classicist par excellence. Above all, however, Turner looked back to classical antiquity for training and guidance, and for the delectation of his heart. And the poetry of the ancients, such as he could obtain it in translation, was as important to him as their art. What does one do with a declared classicist whom a historicizing hindsight feels compelled to rescue as a man of the future by making him a Romantic? It is a challenge stylistic analysis likes to meet, for it goes beneath what it declares to be the surface of a work of art to find its style, the essence that must conform to the presumed spirit of the age in question. The triumphant result of such studies in depth is a forgone conclusion as much as it is a surprise to the uninitiated. The facade of the Louvre, for example, used to suffice to make it a building in the classical style; it took the acumen of a Wölfflin to prove that it really was "baroque." The more the artist struggled not to be of his time, the more, poor man, he betrayed to the analyst that he was of his time. The Louvre facade stands convicted of being "classicizing-baroque."2
· 1. On Turner's view of the modern art of his time see John Gage, Color in Turner: Poetry and Truth (New York, 1969), pp.97-105. On his literary education and taste see the seminal essay by Jerrold Ziff, "Turner on Poetry and Painting, " Studies in Romanticism 3 no. 4 (Summer 1964): 193-215. Turner's poetical writings have been edited by Jack Lindsay, The Sunset Ship: The Poems of J.M.W. Turner (London, 1968). For the most recent and also most elegantly practical introduction to the work and life of Turner, see the catalogue of the Turner Exhibition of the Royal Academy and the Tate Gallery, Turner, 1775-1851 (London, 1975).
· 2. This is now a commonplace of art historical teaching. See, for example, Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, 6th ed. Horst de la Croix and Richard G. Tansey (New York, 1975), p. 632. On the theory behind the application to the particular case, see Heinrich Wölfflin, Principles of Art History, trans. M. D. Hottinger (New York, 1932).
Philipp Fehl, artist and art historian, is currently preparing a collection of essays, Art and Morality: Studies in the History of the Classical Tradition. He is a professor in the department of art and design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Farewell to Jokes: The Last Capricci of Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo and the Tradition of Irony in Venetian Painting" was published in Summer 1979 in Critical Inquiry.
The most distinctive and highly valued poems of the modern era offer an image of a dramatized "I" acting in a concrete setting. The variety and importance of the poems which fall under this description are suggested simply by the mention of such names as "Elegy Written in a Country Courtyard," "Tintern Abbey," "Ode to a Nightingale," "Ulysses," "My Last Duchess," "Dover Beach," "The Windhover," "The Darkling Thrush," "Sailing to Byzantium," "Leda and the Swan," "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." The power and beauty of such poems seems intimately connected with the fact of their dramatic integrity and autonomy, and we have all been taught, in analyzing them, to refer to a "speaker" existing independent of the poet and to avoid the "intentional" and "biographical" fallacies which spuriously link the poem to the poet and the world outside the poem. Such an approach tends to undercut any notion that a poem has a single definite meaning, the meaning the poet gave it, and to support the idea that the meaning of a poem is indeterminate and/or multiple. All this is quite in accord with the orthodox critical doctrine that poetic language is differentiated from scientific language and preserved from competition with it by the fact that it is (a) nonreferential, making no claim upon the real world; and (b) complex, indefinite, and alogical, where scientific language is simple, definite, and logical.
Ralph W. Rader is chairman of the department of English at the University of California at Berkeley. His previous contributions to Critical Inquiry are "Fact, Theory, and Literary Explanation" (December 1974), "Explaining Our Literary Understanding: A Response to Jay Schleusener and Stanley Fish" (June 1975), and "The Literary Theoretical Contribution of Sheldon Sacks" (Winter 1979). Professor Rader's influential studies include Tennyson's "Maud": The Biography Genesis, "Literary Form in Factual Narrative: The Example of Boswell's Johnson," and "The Concept of Genre and Eighteenth-century Studies."
One can sympathize with [Leo] Strauss' ultimate aim—to protect the validity of moral judgment against that form of relativism which would assess the value of great philosophic works simply in terms of how they satisfied the needs of the times for which they were written. But in believing that "historicism " meant "relativism," and that all attention to the temporal relevance of great doctrines in the history of ideas was somehow perverse, Strauss was profoundly mistaken. Hermeneutics is not axiology. Questions of truth and validity are fundamental, but they are dependent upon a prior solution of the problem of meaning. And for the establishment of meaning, contextual analysis is crucial. For it is not as if (as Platonism maintains) ideas were the ghostly inhabitants of another world, logically cut off from human purposes and intentions. All three things exist: ideas, agents, and social contexts, and the best history of ideas is, I believe, constituted by the careful consideration of the multiple interrelationships between them. It is false to believe (as the New Critics, Hutchins and Adler, and Strauss did) that texts exhaust their own meaning. For there is always an historical grounding and a web of person and social events that give them wider and deeper significance. And this is precisely why we must ask such questions as: What sort of society was the author writing for and trying to persuade? What were the conventions of communication and the literary forms of discourse current at the time? What was the author's class affiliation, his place in the social hierarchy of his age? And perhaps above all: What were his moral commitments, the structure of his ideals?
Albert William Levi, David May Distinguished University Professor of the Humanities at Washington University, Saint Louis, is the author of Philosophy and the Modern World; Literature, Philosophy and the Imagination; Humanism and Politics; and Philosophy as Social Expression, and The Idea of Culture. His "Culture: A Guess at the Riddle" appeared in Critical Inquiry, Winter 1977.
No one would deny that Mr. Fish is an acutely perceptive and provocative reader; nor, probably, would anyone deny his formidable prolixity, here as, on a large scale, in Self-Consuming Artifacts. A main reason seems to be that, while he charges formalists with "primarily sins of omission" (p. 469), he does not recognize his own sins of commission. Formalists assume a degree of intelligence in readers; Mr. Fish seems to assume that they are mentally retarded and must have every idea laboriously spelled out, as if their minds moved in unison with their lips. Whatever the occasional rewards, this assumption and procedure are not altogether winning.
Douglas Bush, Gurney Professor of English literature emeritus at Harvard University, responds in this essay to Stanley E. Fish's "Interpreting the Variorum" (Critical Inquiry, Spring 1976). In addition to the Variorum Commentary on the Poems of John Milton, Professor Bush's many influential contributions include English Literature in the Earlier Seventeenth Century, John Milton, John Keats, and Jane Austen.
The crux of Fish's argument in "Interpreting the Variorum" is that people read in different ways (they write different texts) because they belong to different interpretive communities. True enough. However, in the course of his argument Fish seems to collapse the distinction between the interpretive act of reading and the interpretive act of criticism. Fish uses the term interpretive strategies to refer to both the interpretive strategies performed by readers and to his critical strategy which describes these acts. However, critical models are not isomorphic with reading strategies; that is, critical interpretations like Fish's are descriptions of perpetual strategies (in reading) and not the strategies themselves. Fish's implicit dismissal of the reading process/reading description distinction for his own approach leads him to dismiss the distinction for other approaches. And since he has already acknowledged that people read in different ways, he concludes that different critical models are equally valid. Therefore, according to Fish, critics disagree because they read differently.1 But, as I will show, critical interpretations differ, not because critics belong to different interpretive communities of readers, but because they belong to different interpretive communities of critics.
· 1. Of course, the definition of reading becomes crucial here. I am using the term to refer to the temporal interaction of the reader with the text, the moment-by-moment psycholinguistic process that occurs from the instant I open a book and perceive the title or first line, "In my younger and more vulnerable years . . ." to the moment I comprehend the final sentence, "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
Steven Mailloux, a doctoral candidate in rhetoric, linguistics, and literature at the University of Southern California, is coeditor of Checklist of Melville Reviews, and his Herman Melville: The Critical Reception and Henry David Thoreau: A Reference Guide are now in press. He is currently working on a book about contemporary movements in American literary criticism.
Together Professor Bush and Mr. Mailloux present a problem in interpretation not unlike those that were the occasion of the paper they criticize: Professor Bush takes the first section of the paper more seriously (or at least with a different kind of seriousness) than I do, and Mr. Mailloux complains that I do not take it seriously enough. In their different ways they seem to miss or slight (or perhaps resent) the playfulness of my performance, the degree to which it is an attempt to be faithful to my admitted unwillingness to come to, or rest on, a point. Professor Bush seems to think that I am mounting an attack on the Variorum. Let me say at the outset that I intended no such attack, that I am sorry if anything I wrote gave that impression, and that I regret any offense that may have been taken. Professor Bush and I view the Variorum from different perspectives, both of which seem to me to be perfectly legitimate. He views it as a document, while I view it as a text. As a document, as a record and history of research and interpretation, it is a model of its kind, full, judicious, and above all, honest. The editors pay us the compliment of not pretending to an impossible objectivity. They leave us the valuable record of their own occasional disagreements, and thus suggest (to me at least) that they know very well that theirs is an interim report. My inquiry is into the significance of that report; it is not a brief against the compiling of its materials but an attempt to put to them a question the editors quite properly do not ask: what does the history of the effort to determine the meaning of Milton's poems mean? In short, I am extending the scope of interpretation to include the interpreters themselves and, rather than attacking the Variorum, taking one step further the task it has so well begun.
Stanley E. Fish's "How to Do Things with Austin and Searle: Speech Act Theory and Literary Criticism" was published in the Special Centennial Issue of Modern Language Notes, Summer 1976. His contributions to Critical Inquiry include "Facts and Fictions: A Reply to Ralph Rader" (June 1975), "Interpreting the Variorum" (Spring 1976), "Normal Circumstances, Literal Language, Direct Speech Acts, the Ordinary, the Everyday, the Obvious, What Goes without Saying, and Other Special Cases" (Summer 1978), "A Reply to John Reichert; or, How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love Interpretation" (Autumn 1979), and "One More Time" (Autumn 1980).