Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Summer 1975

Volume 1 Issue 4
    • 707Jorge Luis Borges
    • In the year 1855, American Literature made two experiments. The first, quite a minor one, the blending of finished music with sing-song and Red Indian folklore, was undertaken by a considerable poet and a fine scholar, Longfellow. The name of it, Hiawatha. I suppose it succeeded, as far as the expectations of the writer and of his readers went. Nowadays, I suppose it lingers on in the memory of childhood and survives him. Now the other is, of course, Leaves of Grass. Leaves of Grass is a major experiment. In fact, I think I can safely venture to say that Leaves of Grass is one of the most important events in the history of literature. If I speak of it as an experiment, perhaps you will think that I am implying a profanation, a desecration, and a blasphemy, since, when we speak of experiments in literature, we generally think of unsuccessful ones. For example, when we speak of experimental literature, well, we think of works that we do our best to admire and that somehow defeat us (for example, Ulysses, Finnegans Wake, may I add the ninety-odd Cantos of Ezra Pound?) because, after all, the word "experiment" is a polite word. Well, in the case of Leaves of Grass the experiment succeeded so splendidly that we think it could never have failed. Somehow when something goes right - and that hardly ever happens in literature - we think it somehow inevitable. We think that Leaves of Grass lay there, lay unsuspected there, ready for anybody to discover and write it down.

    • 719Jorge Luis Borges
    • You see, I'm not really a thinker. I am a literary man and I have done my best to use the literary possibilities of philosophy, although I'm not a philosopher myself, except in the sense of being very puzzled with the world and with my own life. But when people ask me, for example, if I really believe that the cosmic process will go on and will repeat itself, I say I have nothing at all to do with that. I merely tried to apply the aesthetic possibilities, let's say, of the transmigration of souls or of the fourth dimension to literature and see what could result from them. But really, I would not think of myself as a thinker or a philosopher. And I follow no particular school. 

    • 723Richard McKeon
    • The arts of poetry and the arts of criticism are uncovered and studied in their products, in poems and in judgments. Poetry and criticism, however, the making and judging of poems, are processes. The study of literature as a product - existing poems and existing interpretations and appreciations of poetry - develops a body of knowledge which is sometimes called "poetic sciences." The recognition and use of poetic and critical processes - producing and judging poems which did not previously exist, and uncovering and analyzing aspects of existing poems which were not previously discerned or appreciated - develop things and values by use of arts which are sometimes called "heuristic arts." Knowledge or science is used in the processes of deliberate or artful making; art or criticism is used in the production of things or knowledge of things, natural or artificial. Knowledge is a product of inquiry; criticism is a process of judgment; the two are joined - knowledge of things and use of knowledge - in critical inquiries or critiques of judgment.

      See also: Richard McKeon, Canonic Books and Prohibited Books: Orthodoxy and Heresy in Religion and Culture

      Richard McKeon is Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Greek at the University of Chicago; he was a member of the U.S. delegations to the first three General Conferences of UNESCO and served as U.S. counselor to UNESCO. His numerous publications include The Philosophy of Spinoza, Freedom and History, and Thought, Action, and Passion; he also has edited The Basic Works of Aristotle and coedited the forthcoming critical edition of Abailard's Sic et Non. His contributions to Critical Inquiry include "Canonic Books and Prohibited Books: Orthodoxy and Heresy in Religion and Culture" (Summer 1976) and Pride and Prejudice: Thought, Character, Argument, and Plot" (Spring 1979).

    • 741Angus Fletcher
    • I shall never forget my astonishment and delight on reading the 1949 essay, "The Function of Criticism at the Present Time," which in turn became the Polemic Introduction to Anatomy of Criticism, and my even greater astonishment and delight at the appearance of "Towards a Theory of Cultural History" (1953), which eventually served as Essay 1 of the Anatomy, when revised and expanded. The remarkable thing about these articles was not so much their content as their assumption, namely, that criticism could at least try to become a science. This assumption was couched in the form of most general scientific orientations, in that Frye took literature in its own terms,1 to begin with, and then did not prejudicially segregate and then destroy the claims of particular "minority groups" within the whole commonwealth of literary life. I did not know it at the time, but Frye was then, as now, fighting for a mode of civil rights. He was then, as now, a libertarian. He first made his name writing on Blake— freedom enough, perhaps—but it has always seemed to me that his center is as much Milton as Blake. But then, to know Blake truly is to understand Milton.


      ·  1. This assumption is to be distinguished from that of "early" Richards, which held that a science for literary studies had to come at literature from the outside, with chiefly psychological instruments. Richards' career has been the most complex critical "life" in our century, I believe, and it should be observed that he has held, and abandoned, more than one assumptive high ground during the course of his long and magnificent involvement with poetry.

      See also: Angus Fletcher, Another Literary Darwinism

      Angus Fletcher's numerous writings include Allegory: The Thought of a Symbolic Mode, The Prophetic Moment: An Essay on Spenser, The Transcendental Masque: An Essay on Milton's Comus, The Stranger God: A Theoretical Study of the Myth of Dionysus, and Thresholds: A Critical Approach to the English Renaissance. Northrop Frye's response, "Expanding Eyes" appears in the Winter 1975 issue.

    • 757George Kubler
    • In anthropology, works of art are used as sources of information rather than as expressive realities in their own right. In anthropology the work of art is treated more as a window than as a symbol; it is treated as a transparency rather than as a membrane having its own properties and qualities.


      For instance, it is usually in social science that art "reflects" life with more or less distortion. Yet no art can record anything it is not actually programmed to register. This programming usually concerns very small sectors of all actuality, and it is limited by the figural traditions and by the technical resources of the artisans....Given my assumptions—that art does not "reflect" life; nor does it necessarily imitate nature; nor can it be explained away by texts or informants—given these assumptions, we are required to limit our notions about how much "information" the arts can convey.


      George Kubler is Robert Lehman Professor of the History of Art at Yale University. His publications include The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things, Studies in Classic Maya Iconography, Portuguese Plain Architecture, 1526-1706 and The Art and Architecture of Ancient America: The Mexican, Maya, and Andean Peoples.

    • 769Barbara Herrnstein Smith
    • Asked (or challenged) to define poetry, one is likely to reply with a sigh, a shrug, a look of exasperation or even one of contempt, indicating not only that the question is oppressive but that anyone who asks it must be something of a fool, a pest, or a vulgarian. Though these uncongenial reactions may be interpreted as the signs of intellectual embarrassment, they are, I think, quite justified. For the nature of definition and the particular historical fortunes of the term poetry conjoin to this effect: that a definition of the term will either be a total chronicle of those fortunes or will constitute merely one more episode in them. In other words, a definition of poetry is bound to be either inadequate to the job or, if adequate, then both unmanageable and uninteresting for any other purpose.

      See also: Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Contingencies of Value

      Barbara Herrnstein Smith, professor of English and communications at the University of Pennsylvania, is the author of Poetic Closure: A Study of How Poems End, for which she received the Christian Gauss and Explicator awards, and the editor of Shakespeare's Sonnets. This article will be part of a book, Fictive Discourse. She has also contributed "Narrative Versions, Narrative Theories" (Autumn 1980) to Critical Inquiry.

    • 799Nelson Goodman
    • Obviously, subject is what is said, style is how. A little less obviously, that formula is full of faults. Architecture and nonobjective painting and most of music have no subject. Their style cannot be a matter of how they say something, for they do not literally say anything; they do other things, they mean in other ways. Although most literary works say something, they usually do other things, too; and some of the ways they do some of these things are aspects of style. Moreover, the what of one sort of doing may be part of the how of another. Indeed, even where the only function in question is saying, we shall have to recognize that some notable features of style are features of the matter rather than the manner of the saying. In more ways than one, subject is involved in style. For this and other reasons, I cannot subscribe to the received opinion that style depends upon an artist's conscious choice among alternatives. And I think we shall also have to recognize that not all differences in ways of writing or painting or composing or performing are differences in style.

      See also: Nelson Goodman, Twisted Tales; Or, Story, Study, and Symphony

      Nelson Goodman, professor of philosophy at Harvard University, has written The Structure of Appearance; Fact, Fiction and Forecast; Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols; Problems and Projects; and numerous articles. Logic and Art: Essays in Honor of Nelson Goodman was published in 1972. His contributions to Critical Inquiry include "Metaphor as Moonlighting" (Autumn 1979), "Twisted Tales; or, Story, Study, and Symphony" (Autumn 1980), and "The Telling and the Told" (Summer 1981).

    • 813David Daiches
    • In The Novel and the Modern World I tried to explain the three factors that account for the special characteristics of the modern novel—the breakdown in community of belief about what was significant in experience, new notions of time, new notions of consciousness—with reference with changes to the social and economic fabric of society, for I was writing in the heyday of “social” thinking about literature that affected so many of us in the late 1930s. But I soon came to feel that this explanation was too slapdash and that a much subtler kind of relationship existed between literature and society than the one I tried to present in 1938. That is why in the new addition of the book I substituted for some of the larger generalisations about society a closer reading of aspects of individual novels. But I have never given up my belief that there is a profound relationship between literature and society and that what might be called the heroic period of experiment and innovation of the novel on both sides of the Atlantic reveals something of that relationship. And in the years that followed the original publication of the book I have found no reason to abandon my general theory, but have applied it, with more subtlety (I hope), to a wider range of writers.

      See also: Bruce Morrissette, Post-Modern Generative Fiction: Novel and Film

      David Daiches, professor of English at the University of Sussex, is the author of numerous books and articles. Among them, New Literary Values, The Novel and the Modern World, Virginia Woolf, and Literary Essays were pioneering studies in modern literature. He is currently working on Was, a book on the nature of memory and the relation of imagination and language.

    • 821Karl J. Weintraub
    • An autobiographic instinct may be as old as Man Writing; but only since 1800 has Western Man placed a premium on autobiography. A bibliography of all autobiographic writing prior to that time would be a small fascicule; a bibliography since 1800 a thick tome. The ground behind this simpleminded assertion of a quantitative measure cannot be explained away by easy reference to the mass literacy of the modern world or the greater ease of publishing. It is as much a fact of cultural conditions as is the significant relation of rhetoric to the intense public mindedness of classical men, the relative insignificance of tragedy in a thoroughly Christianized world view, the disappearance of epic from a nonaristocratic world, or the powerful assertion of the novel in an age of burghers. The usage of the term "autobiography" itself is suggestive, although this mode of historical explanation is always defective in the sense that such older terms as "hypomnemata," "commentarii," "vita," "confessions," or "memoirs" may well have covered the functions subsequently encapsulated in a newly fashionable term. In German the term makes its appearance shortly before 1800; the Oxford English Dictionary attributes first English usage to Southey in an article on Portuguese literature from the year 1809.

      See also: Heather Keenleyside, The First-Person Form of Life: Locke, Sterne, and the Autobiographical Animal

      Karl J. Weintraub, Thomas E. Donnelley Professor of History and dean of the Division of the Humanities at the University of Chicago, is the author of Visions of Culture and numerous articles. His introduction to a new edition of Goethe's Autobiography (Chicago, 1974) will prove of special interest to our readers.

    • 849Paul K. Alkon
    • Past, present, and future are reversed in the reader's encounter with the illustrations selected by Gertrude Stein for her Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.1 After the table of contents there is a table of illustrations that encourages everyone to look at the pictures before they begin reading. During that initial examination, the illustrations forecast what is to be discovered in the text. Expectations are aroused by photographs showing Gertrude Stein in front of the atelier door, rooms hung with paintings, Gertrude and Alice in front of Saint Mark's Cathedral, and both with a car in front of Joffre's birthplace. It is natural—although, as it turns out, not altogether correct—to assume that the accumulation of paintings will be explained, that the life lived within the rooms will be fully depicted, and that conventional narrative explanation will be provided to account for the presence of Gertrude and Alice together in such disparate settings as Venice and the French marshal's home.


      ·  1. For useful comments on several pictures as well as evidence that "even the book's sixteen photographs were carefully placed in the first edition," see Richard Bridgman, Gertrude Stein in Pieces (New York, 1970), p. 219.


      Paul K. Alkon, professor of English at the University of Minnesota, is author of Samuel Johnson and Moral Discipline. Among his recent articles are "Boswellian Time" and "The Historical Development of the Concept of Time." He is writing a book about time in Defoe's fiction.


      See also: "The Mind, The Body, and Gertrude Stein" by Catharine R. Stimpson in Vol. 3, No. 3; "Gertrude Stein, the Cone Sisters, and the Puzzle of Female Friendship" by Carolyn Burke in Vol. 8, No. 3

    • 883Stanley E. Fish
    • Ralph Rader's model of literary activity is built up (or rather down) from a theory of intention. A literary work, he believes, embodies a "cognitive act,"1 an act variously characterized as a "positive constructive intention" (Fact, p. 253), "an overall creative intention" (Conception, p.88). To read a literary work is to perform an answering "act of cognition" (Fact, p. 250), which is in effect the comprehension of this comprehensive intention, the assigning to the work of a "single coherent meaning" (Concept, p. 86). Both acts—the embodying and the assigning —are one-time, single-shot performances. They are "ends" in two senses; the overall intention is the end to which everything in the work must be contributory, and its comprehension is something the reader does at the end (of a sentence, paragraph, poem, etc.).


      Rader offers this model as if it were descriptive, as if it made explicit rules of behavior we unerringly follow, rules which underlie our "tacit or intuitive capacity" (Fact, p. 249) of intention producing and intention retrieving; but the model is, in fact, prescriptive since it quite arbitrarily limits this same capacity: authors are limited to no more than one positive constructive intention per unit, while readers or interpreters are limited to its discovery; whatever cannot be related to that discovery or interferes with it will either be declared not to exist (Rader will later say that such interferences "are not actively registered") or, if its existence cannot be denied, it will be labeled a defect, an "unintended and unavoidable negative consequence of the artist's positive constructive intention" (Fact, p. 253).


      ·  1. My argument will engage two of Rader's articles. They are "Fact, Theory, and Literary Explanation," Critical Inquiry 1, no.2 (December 1974): 245-72, and "The Concept of Genre and Eighteenth-Century Studies," in New Approaches to Eighteenth-Century Literature: Selected Papers from the English Institute (New York, 1974), pp. 79-115. In what follows they will be referred to as Fact and Concept along with the appropriate page number.


      Stanley E. Fish, professor of English at John Hopkins University, responds in this essay to Ralph W. Rader's "Fact, Theory, and Literary Explanation" (Critical Inquiry, December 1974). Professor Fish is the author of John Skelton's Poetry, Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost, and Self-Consuming Artifacts: The Experience of Seventeenth-Century Literature. His other contributions to Critical Inquiry include "Interpreting the Variorum" (Spring 1976), "CRITICAL RESPONSE: Interpreting 'Interpreting the Variorum'" (Autumn 1976), "Normal Circumstances, Literal Language, Direct Speech Acts, the Ordinary, the Everyday, the Obvious, What Goes without Saying, and Other Special Cases" (Summer 1978), "CRITICAL RESPONSE: A Reply to John Reichert; or, How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love Interpretation" (Autumn 1979), and "One More Time" (Autumn 1980).

    • 892Jay Schleusener
    • I do not believe that Ralph Rader succeeds in his attempt to borrow from the philosophy of science, and I am interested in his essay as an example of the difficulties we face when applying theoretical studies in another discipline to the theoretical problems of our own. My argument is largely negative—I mean to show that Rader's account of critical explanation is inadequate and in some respects inconsistent—but even negative arguments have their place, and I hope to make a few useful suggestions as a result.


      Rader's argument depends on the possibility of recognizing unintended consequences when we meet them in a text. It is not enough that they exist; we must also be able to say which consequences are intended and which are merely the by-products of art. If we cannot, then the distinction has no use for practical criticism. But the logical structure of Rader's unintended consequences is shared by some artistic defects and by some critical misapprehensions as well. What should we think when we encounter a fact of the text—this notion wants defining—which is inconsistent with our sense of the author's purpose but which is a consequence of his means? We might take it as an "unintended and unavoidable negative consequence of the artist's positive constructive intention,"1 but we might take it instead as evidence of a failure in his judgment or as evidence of our own failure to understand his purpose in the first place.


      ·  1. Ralph Rader, "Fact, Theory, and Literary explanation," Critical Inquiry 1, no.2 (December 1974):253.


      Jay Schleusener, assistant professor of English at University of Chicago, is author of a book on the rhetoric of Piers Plowman. He has contributed "Convention and the Context of Reading" (Summer 1980) to Critical Inquiry.

    • 901Ralph W. Rader
    • In replying to Jay Schleusener, I have also answered many of the objections put less abstractly, though often more sharply, by Stanley Fish. For instance, Fish's assertion that my category of unintended negative consequences "will be filled by whatever does not accord with what Rader has decreed to be the positive constructive intention" (p. 884) is essentially the same charge brought by Schleusener and requires no further substantive answer than I have already offered here and, for that matter, in my original essay. I would point out, however, that in this remark as elsewhere Fish loads his statements with inaccurate pejoratives: I do not decree but postulate the positive constructive intention and test it for explanatory adequacy by deduction open at every point to the counterdemonstration of fallacy. (We may constrast this with Fish's truly arbitrary procedure of assigning interpretations ad hoc to local features as he encounters or wishes to construe them, with no interpretation constraining any other.) I would point out also that, in making this charge, he operates under different explanatory standards from those he adopts elsewhere. The statement quoted imputes to my theory as a special defect the fact of its supposedly self-fulfilling and nonfalsifiable character, whereas later Fish clearly asserts that all interpretations including his own are necessarily self-confirming.


      Ralph W. Rader has written Tennyson's "Maud": The Biographical Genesis. Among his influential articles are "Literary Form in Factual Narrative: The Example of Boswell's Johnson" and "The Concept of Genre and Eighteenth-Century Studies." He is professor of English at the University of California at Berkeley. His contributions to Critical Inquiry include "Fact, Theory, and Literary Explanation" (Winter 1974), "The Dramatic Monologue and Related Lyric Forms"(Autumn 1976), and "The Literary Theoretical Contribution of Sheldon Sacks" (Winter 1980).