Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Summer 1977

Volume 4 Issue 1
    • 1Alain Robbe-Grillet
    • In any event, I realize fully that the parole, the speech, the "word" of a writer such as myself, has something strange and even contradictory about it, even within its own creator. At the moment when I write, let us say, La Jalousie or Glissements progressifs du plaisir, what I propose is improbable and consequently unacceptable; that is, my parole as a writer or as a cinéaste in my novels or in my films is abrupt, inexplicable, nonrecuperable for any correctly organized discourse. Nevertheless, you have noticed that I speak with the same clarity as any professor, and this constitutes an extremely interesting contradiction because it goes to the very heart of the debate; order and disorder never cease to interact, to contaminate each other, to practice a sort of mutual recuperation. If, having written a novel of disorder, I don't find someone—for example, Bruce Morrissette, about La Jalousie—to prove that it has order, I'll do it myself. The principle of order is so crucial that I wish to prove that the disorder which I've created I can myself transform into order. But, as soon as I have shown that it has its order, from that moment on I've destroyed the interest of my work. I have brought about within an organized discourse, organized according to the normal logic of Cartesianism, the recuperation of something which was in fact a machine of war against order. I often run into people who say to me after a film, "Ah, it's a pity that you didn't come to explain all of that before the film. We didn't understand a thing, and it is such a fine thing that you have explained it." And I reply, "Yes, but don't trust that too much," because what I've said is not at all the film. It is even almost the opposite; it is the way in which I show myself that there is in what I created a part which is in spite of everything, explainable by established order, and a part increasingly large, because order progresses.

      Alain Robbe-Grillet, novelist, film maker, and essayist, is the author of Les Gommes (1953), Le Voyeur (1955), La Jalousie (1957), Dans le labyrinthe (1959), La Maison de rendez-vous (1965), Projet pour une révolution à New York (1970), and Topologie d'une cité fantôme (1976). His films include: L'Année dernière à Marienbad (1961), L'Immortelle (1963), Trans-Europ-Express (1967), L'Homme qui ment (1968), L'Eden et après (1970), Glissements progressifs du plaisir (1974), and Le Jeu avec le feu (1975). He has presented his views on contemporary fiction in Pour un Nouveau Roman. Bruce Morrissette, author of books on Alain Robbe-Grillet and Sunny Distinguished Service Professor in the department of Romance languages and literature at the University of Chicago, has translated "Order and Disorder in Film and Fiction." He is the author of "Post-Modern Generative Fiction: Novel and Film" (Critical Inquiry, Winter 1975).

    • 21Siegmund Levarie
    • Noise has become an increasingly noticeable and significant symptom of our civilization. Fundamentally an acoustic phenomenon, noise has wider implications. It is the legitimate object of scientific investigations in the fields of psychology and physiology. It can be properly evaluated by its role in music and in general aesthetics. It leads to basic questions of sociology. We shall pursue the implications in these various fields one by one. In this process, as elsewhere, music provides the bridge from facts (acoustics, psychology, physiology) to commitments (aesthetics, sociology).

      See also: Eric Drott, Rereading Jacques Attali's Bruits

      Siegmund Levarie is professor of music at the City University of New York. The author of books on Mozart, Guillaume de Machaut, harmony, and Italian music, he has also collaborated with Ernst Levy on Tone: A Study in Musical Acoustics and the forthcoming A Dictionary of Musical Morphology.

    • 33Robert P. Morgan
    • According to [Edward T.] Cone, then, there is a great deal of music written today that is simply no longer susceptible to analysis. If this is true, it can mean one of several things. First, it may indicate that, although there are new compositions that one finds interesting and representative of the period in which we live, the music simply does not lend itself to analysis. Thus, even if we enjoy and admire this music, there is not much that we can say about it beyond perhaps a mere description—which I think most of us, along with Cone, would agree does not really constitute an analysis. I have the impression that many proponents of new music hold this view—that is, they feel that new music is understandable only through a sort of mindless apprehension of its sensory surface. But if this is a fair account of the situation surrounding new music, it seems to me to represent a very serious—and also depressing—state of affairs. For what it means, I suspect, is that new music does not lend itself to being thought about in any serious way at all; and if so, then new music is missing a crucial dimension—namely, an accompanying conceptual framework, erected through a body of critical and theoretical discourse, through which its meaning is defined and redefined as our thinking about music evolves. Indeed, this dimension forms—and has always formed—such an integral component of Western art music that its absence would seem to indicate that music, at least as we have known it, is in all likelihood dead.

      See also: Robert P. Morgan, Musical Time/ Musical Space

      Robert P. Morgan is professor of music theory and composition at Temple University. In addition to being a composer, he is active as a critic; his articles on contemporary music have appeared recently in several music journals and in An Ives Celebration. His contribution to Critical Inquiry, "Musical Time/Musical Space" appeared in the Spring 1980 issue.

    • 55Stefan Morawski
    • The generalizing methods of philosophies achieve a popularity for a period of time, which may be extended or brief, during which their proponents and even their opponents may regard them as the cognitive presuppositions for the epoch. The same effect is achieved by the more exact scientific methodologies as they find fame outside the scientific circle and are treated by some as omnipotent discoveries with powers to heal all other disciplines which may be ailing. The limping disciplines, generally classified among the humanities and discerned to be in trouble since the nineteenth century, are understandably envious of the seemingly invincible, favored scientific children of our time. For our era tends to worship quantifiable data and the principles and instruments for measuring and conceptualizing it. Thus semiotics and information theory, in hopes of acquiring the status of the sciences, have led aesthetic inquiry (to mention only one field) toward the currently popular scientism; but the limited cognitive scope of this methodology has not been recognized. Sociology of knowledge, however, forewarns us of the winds of fashion on cognitive paradigms. Where the inherent explanatory scope of a doctrine, system, or method is less than is believed according to the prevailing sociological patterns, a correction will eventually set in. And an important factor in overcoming the para-religious claims will be, precisely, the fundamental antinomical tendency of the human mind.


      Stefan Morawski, Research Professor at the Institute of Arts of the Polish Academy of Sciences, has lectured throughout the United States and is currently teaching at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. His works have appeared in a variety of languages: Marxism and Aesthetics: History of Ideas has been published in Spanish and Italian; Absolute and Form, in Polish, Italian, and French; and, in English, Inquiries into the Fundamentals of Aesthetics.

    • 85Frank Anderson Trapp
    • One of Hans Christian Andersen's most beautiful tales is "The Emperor's Nightingale." Its message—an exceptionally sobering one in the present context—is that nature is altogether finer and more enduring than art. It tells how a Chinese emperor, beguiled by a precious imitation bird that had been given him, forsook a natural songster he had once favored. But when that glittering counterfeit broke down, its clockwork sound silenced, the now aged ruler found welcome solace in the real bird's return, in its more reliable and spiritually healing song. . . . Despite the artist's foregone defeat in any contest with nature (only in myth does a Pygmalion appear), over the ages artists have been irresistibly drawn to the challenge of imitating nature. The persistence of these claims upon their skills and the inventive flight that have been elicited in the process testify to the extraordinary hold that the desire to mirror nature, or better still, to capture something of its essence, can exert over artists and their public. Accounts of imitative prowess go back to the most ancient days, beyond the fabled skills of Zeuxis and Apelles. There is no need here to summarize the complicated but almost domestically familiar history of illusionism. Rather, it is my present intention to reflect upon some contradictions inherent in the conception of art as illusion and to review some of the more exaggerated forms in which efforts have been made to break down the boundaries between art and nature.

      See also: Michael Fried, Painting Memories: On the Containment of the past in Baudelaire and Manet

      Frank Anderson Trapp, William Rutherford Mead Professor of Fine Arts, chairman of the department of art, and director of the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College, is the author of The Attainment of Delacroix and a number of essays on the history of art.

    • 105Robert Scholes
    • The most powerful assumption in French semiotic thought since Saussure has been the notion that a sign consists not of a name and the object it refers to, but of a sound-image and a concept, a signifier and a signified. Saussure, as amplified by Roland Barthes and others, has taught us to recognize an unbridgeable gap between words and things, signs and referents. The whole notion of "sign and referent" has been rejected by the French structuralists and their followers as too materialistic and simple minded. Signs do not refer to things, they signify concepts, and concepts are aspects of thought, not aspects of reality. This elegant and persuasive formulation has certainly provided a useful critique of naive realism, vulgar materialism, and various other-isms which can be qualified with crippling adjectives. But it hasn't exactly caused the world to turn into a concept. Even semioticians eat and perform their other bodily functions just as if the world existed solidly around them. The fact that the word "Boulangerie" has no referent does not prevent them from receiving their daily bread under that sign. As Borges put it: "The world, alas, is real; I, alas, am Borges." Obviously, the whole question of the relationship between words and things cannot be debated without any assistance from nonverbal experience seems to me highly unlikely. In my view, if language really were a closed system, it would be subject, like any other closed system, to increase in entropy. In fact, it is new input into language from nonverbal experience that keeps language from decaying.

      Robert Scholes, professor of English and director of the program in semiotic studies at Brown University, is co-author (with Robert Kellogg) of The Nature of Narrative and author of Structuralism in Literature. A Guggenheim fellow for 1977-78, he is currently working on "A Semiotics of Fiction." He has also contributed "Language, Narrative, and Anti-Narrative" (Autumn 1980) to Critical Inquiry.

    • 121Peter J. Rabinowitz
    • Questions about the status of literary truth are as old as literary criticism, but they have become both more intricate and more compelling as literature has grown progressively more self-conscious and labyrinthian in its dealings with "reality." One might perhaps read The Iliad or even David Copperfield without raising such issues. But authors like Gide (especially in The Counterfeiters), Nabokov, Borges, and Robbe-Grillet seem continually to remind their readers of the complex nature of literary truth. How, for instance, are we to deal with a passage like the following from William Demby's novel The Catacombs:

      "When I began this novel, I secretly decided that, though I would exercise a strict selection of the facts to write down, be they 'fictional' facts or 'true' facts taken from newspapers or directly observed events in my own life, once I had written something down I would neither edit not censor it (myself)."1

      What does this sentence mean? When an apparently fictional narrator (who, to make matters more confusing, has the same name as his author and is also writing a novel entitled The Catacombs) distinguishes between "fictional" and "true" facts, what is the status of the word "true"? It clearly does not mean the same as "fictional," for he opposes it to that term. Yet it cannot mean "true" in the sense that historians would use, for he calls what he is writing a novel, and even if he quotes accurately from newspapers, the events of a narrator's life are not "historically" true.


      · 1. William Demby, The Catacombs (New York, 1970), p.93.

      See also: Peter J. Rabinowitz, Who Was That Lady? Pluralism and Critical Method


      Peter J. Rabinowitz, assistant professor at Kirkland College, is currently working on articles on Raymond Chandler, Faulkner, and Dostoyevsky and is, as well, a music critic for the Syracuse Guide. He wrote his doctoral dissertation in comparative literature on the philosophical implications of Nabokov's use of humor and terror. "Truth in Fiction" is the first article he has had published in a scholarly journal.

    • 143Dennis Porter
    • If the morphology of baseball is similar to that of the fairy tale, it is obviously not because baseball is a form of narrative art. As my title suggests, insofar as baseball resembles literature at all in the way it manifests itself, it is clearly much closer to drama. Baseball takes place within a fixed, carefully delimited space that may be improvised but is reserved specifically for the purpose wherever the game is institutionalized. It is an ensemble performance carried out by specially trained "players" in front of an audience for whom the occasion is a festive event that occurs as a suspension of ordinary life. It possesses a plot that develops in a limited period of time from initial situation through complication to denouement and has a relatively large number of dramatis personae who are sent into the playing area at a given moment in order to perform specific roles.

      See also: William H. Epstein, Tryouts: A Memoir

      Dennis Porter, associate professor of French and comparative literature at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, has published widely on nineteenth- and twentieth-century French and English novels. He is currently an NEH fellow and is working on two books: one on plot and ideology in the novel, the other, The Alibi of Crime, on detective fiction.

    • 159Elder Olson
    • Is there an alternative course to one which sets up hypotheses as to the nature of poetry and then proceeds to illustrate them? Happily, there is. Rather than beginning with the hypothesis we may begin with the fact, and let what may emerge. That is, rather than beginning with some notion of the nature of poetry, we may begin with individual poems and discover what we may of their nature or form. This procedure evidently involves four phases: (1) examination of the characteristics of individual poems, (2) discovery, by comparison with other poems, of likenesses and differences, (3) decision as to which of these likenesses and differences are relevant to poetic form, and (4) the statement of form itself. Once we have discovered a given form, we shall be in a position to discuss the principles underlying the construction of such form, the various possibilities of such construction, and what constitutes excellence in a given form.

      See also: Elder Olson, The Poetic Process

      Elder Olson, poet, critic, and Distinguished Service Professor in the department of English at the University of Chicago, is the author of six volumes of verse, including Collected Poems and Olson's Penny Arcade, and of numerous works of literary criticism. His previous contributions to Critical Inquiry are "The Poetic Process" (Autumn 1975) and "On Value Judgments in the Arts" (September 1974), the title essay on his most recent collection of criticism. Among the many awards which he has received are the Academy of American Poets award, the Longview Foundation award, the Emily Clark Balsh award and, for Olson's Penny Arcade, the Society of Midland Authors award. Both his poetry and his criticism are the subject of a book by Thomas E. Lucas. Part II of "A Conspectus of Poetry" will appear in the Winter 1977 issue of Critical Inquiry.

    • 181M. H. Abrams
    • Peckham claims that my "behavior" in dealing with the quotations in Natural Supernaturalism is the same, in methodology and validity, as the interpretative behavior of Booth's waiter. But the great bulk of the utterances in my quotations—and no less, of the utterances constituting Peckham's own essay—do not consist of orders, requests, or commands. Instead, they consist of assertions, descriptions, judgments, exclamations, approbations, condemnations, and many other kinds of speech-acts, the meanings of which are not related to my interpretative behavior, even in the indirect way in which the meaning of Booth's order is related to the future behavior of his waiter.


      M. H. Abrams, author of Natural Supernaturalism and The Mirror and the Lamp and Class of 1916 Professor of English at Cornell University, responds in this essay to Morse Peckham's "The Infinitude of Pluralism" (Summer 1977). Morse Peckham, in his Critical Response, was commenting on issues raised by the forum on "The Limits of Pluralism" (Spring 1977), to which M. H. Abrams contributed. Previous contributions to Critical Inquiry are "Rationality and Imagination in Cultural History: A Reply to Wayne Booth" (Spring 1976) and "The Deconstructive Angel" (Spring 1977).

    • 194Robert Denham
    • The reductive nature of Kincaid's undertaking comes into sharper focus when we compare his kind of critical inquiry with that, say, of [Sheldon] Sacks or [Ralph] Rader. Kincaid concludes where they begin. For Sacks, the identification of some type, such as satire, is what initiates the critical process. What then remains is to move beyond type, which exists at the highest level of generality, to form and finally to those detailed analyses which will account for the peculiar powers of unique works. His types, as he says, are "only elementary distinctions," and he adds that "at some point in an adequate criticism of a single literary work, we will inevitably be discussing those variations which distinguish a particular literary work from all other literary works of its class, even if that class has been defined according to the most subtle and intricate combination of variables possible."1 Similarly for Rader, our intuitions about formal principles and intentions are but first steps in critical inquiry. "My theory, " he says, "attempts not to establish 'general laws' . . . but to render explicit the structural features of our tacit experiences of literature in a way that will allow us to bring all its implications to bear simultaneously upon our explanation of any particular literary work."2 Such procedures as these, which are designed to give us particular knowledge, are ruled out by Kincaid's program, the most specific formal principle of which is something quite general: the competition among narrative patterns. There is finally, then, very little knowledge to be shared, for our inquiries will always arrive at the same conclusion. Although readers, in his view, can intend one thing rather than another, writers cannot, and this assumption that agents (who are, by the way, conspicuously absent from his title) are somehow set apart from the other members of the species means, I suspect, that Kincaid is right about one thing: his effort to mediate does indeed place him in a "no-man's land."


      ·   1. Sheldon Sacks, Fiction and the Shape of Belief (Berkeley, 1967), pp. 25-26 n.

      ·   2. Rader, "Explaining Our Literary Understanding," Critical Inquiry 1 (June 1975): 905.


      Robert Denham, editor of Northrop Frye: An Enumerative Bibliography and the forthcoming Northrop Frye on Culture and Literature (a collection of Professor Frye's essay-reviews), is associate professor and chairman of the department of English at Emory and Henry College. In this essay Robert Denham replies to James R. Kincaid's "Coherent Readers, Incoherent Texts" Critical inquiry, Summer 1977.

    • 203RenĂ© Wellek, Wayne C. Booth, Joseph F. Ryan, Jean H. Hagstrum
    • In late April we received the following letter from René Wellek:

      May I comment on the remarks Wayne C. Booth made about some passages in Theory of Literature in his article "Preserving the Exemplar" (in CI, vol. 3, pp. 408-10)?


      Mr. Booth is completely mistaken in referring to Wellek and Warren as "those Un-new Critics." The chapter in Theory of Literature is a revision of my paper "The Mode of Existence of a Literary Work of Art," published in the Southern Review (vol. 7, pp. 735-54) in 1942. This in turn rehearses some of the arguments of my older paper "The Theory of Literary History" in the Travaux du Cercle Linguistique de Prague (vol. 6 [1936], pp. 173-91), written some four years before my emigration to the United States. The incriminated passages are, I believe, the very first attempt to define the ontological status of a literary work in English. The method is phenomenological and not neo-critical at all. The terms such as "structure of norms," "structure of determinism" (used also by Meyer Abrams) come from Husserl's Méditations cartésiennes (Paris, 1931) and from Roman Ingarden's Das literarische Kunstwerk (Halle, 1931), as I acknowledged in many contexts. I trust, however, that I supported and developed this position with new arguments, for instance, in rejecting the theories of I. A. Richards. This rejection follows logically from my acceptance of Husserl's arguments against psychologism. In many contexts, I have carefully discussed the theories of I. A. Richards, first in 1937, in a Czech article, on the Cambridge theorists of literature (Richards, Leavis, Empson), most elaborately in "On Rereading Richards" in The Southern Review (vol. 3 [N.S., Summer 1967], pp. 533-53), an account which will be included in the forthcoming fifth volume of my History of Modern Criticism.



      Wayne Booth responded to Professor Wellek:

      I am greatly embarrassed by my mistake in writing "Robert Penn Warren" when I "know" very well that your collaborator was Austin Warren. Though it was a slip of the pen, and mind, it is the kind of mistake for which there is no real excuse. I knew, of course, about the distribution of different chapters to each of you, but assumed that because you published the book jointly it would be only fair to include both authors' names in my attribution.


      The other matters are of course much less simple to deal with. My little joke about "Un-new Critics" was intended more as a dig at the new new critics than as a lumping of you together with all the others who have been called "New Critics." You must have been annoyed many times over the years at the careless way in which a School was inferred when no single grouping ever existed. If I were ever discussing the New Critics I would want to discriminate what you have stood for from a large variety of other theories that came into prominence at about the same time.



      In a second letter, addressed directly to Wayne Booth, Professor Wellek further clarified his view of the issues in dispute as well as those points where he believes he and Professor Booth are in substantial agreement:

      You wrote me such a friendly and generous letter that I felt like withdrawing my letter to Critical Inquiry. But on second thought I let it stand as I wrote it. Your paper has been heard and read by many.


      I agree with you completely about the abuse of the term "The New Criticism." In the fifth volume of my History of Modern Criticism which, I hope, will at last appear next year, I have made a determined effort to expound the American critics so labeled as distinct individuals often radically different in outlook, theories, tastes and conclusions.



      In April we also received the following letter from Joseph F. Ryan about Jean H. Hagstrum's "Eros and Psyche: Some Versions of Romantic Love and Delicacy" (Spring 1977):

      Thank you for the Hagstrum essay on Eros and Psyche. It is the type of article Critical Inquiry exists to provide and perhaps too infrequently finds.


      I do have one quarrel with Hagstrum over his interpretation of Flaubert's reaction to the kiss exchanged by Cupid and Psyche in Canova's representation.


      Jean Hagstrum responded:

      Thank you for your kind remarks on my recent essay in Critical Inquiry.


      We are in considerably less disagreement than your letter suggests, Flaubert's response must surely be "sensual," as he says it is, though I must say that there is something a little less than ultimately satisfying about kissing a statue that is not likely to become flesh.


      Subsequently we received two more letters from Joseph Ryan. The first was directed to us and was an elaboration of comments made in his initial letter; the second was directed to Professor Hagstrum and forwarded to us.

      I should not like Professor Hagstrum to think my letter lacking in the critical seriousness that his excellent essay requires as an adequate response. I would like to state the grounds of my consent to his argument more fully, so that any reservations that I may maintain may not seem whimsical or coy.

      I think Professor Hagstrum's essay is seminal in every possible sense of the term. He calls our attention to the centrality of a myth that has been so often observed, noticed, even peeked at, that, like many lovely and regenerating things, it has been as much overlooked as looked at.


      [The second letter reads:]

      Thank you for your kind reply to my first letter. Your reply has set me thinking about several questions concerning the relation of spiritual love to the flesh. You agree that there is nothing necessarily narcissistic and regressive about Flaubert's response, but you feel that his action must have been less than "ultimately satisfying." While it is quite true that many mystics are thwarted or crossed lovers and that this truth lends cogency to the hypothesis that mystical love is merely a displacement of an inhibited sexual aim, we cannot explain all forms of "Platonic" love in this fashion without recourse to a materialism more vindictive than disinterested.


      Jean Hagstrum then answered:

      In your letter of 9 June you broaden the meaning of Flaubert's kiss to symbolize the fusion of body and spirit in all aesthetic response. It is an excellent statement, and I shall not try to improve on it.


      In the longer response to my essay of 9 May, directed to Critical Inquiry, I do not find the suggested fusions nearly so persuasive.


      Then, in July, we received the following from Joseph Ryan:

      I wish to state my hypothesis about two distinct kinds of Platonic tradition as clearly as possible. (This hypothesis owes more than I can say to de Rougemont, a little to Leslie Fiedler, but, as far as I can tell, nothing at all to Marcuse.) These two traditions interpenetrate and even wage a struggle in many authors but ideally and essentially they are distinguishable.