Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Spring 1977

Volume 3 Issue 3
    • 407Wayne C. Booth
    • At first thought, our question of the day seems to be "about the text itself." Is there, in all texts, or at least in some texts, what Abrams calls "a core of determinate meanings," "the central core of what they [the authors] undertook to communicate"? Miller has seemed to find in the texts of Nietzsche a claim that there is not, that "the same text authorizes innumerable interpretations: There is no 'correct' interpretation. . . . reading is never the objective identifying of a sense but the importation of meaning into a text which has no meaning 'in itself.'" Abrams claims that Miller cannot report on Nietzsche's deconstructionist claims without violating them: Miller seems to claim that he has found something that Nietzsche's text really says, not something that Miller himself merely brought to it. Is this objection a quibble or a clincher?1


      · 1. See my "M.H. Abrams: Historian as Critic, Critic as Pluralist," Critical Inquiry 2 (Spring 1976): 411-45, and Abrams' reply, "Rationality and Imagination in Cultural History," pp. 447-64, esp. 456-58.

      See also: Wayne C. Booth, Irony and Pity Once Again: "Thaïs" Revisited

      Wayne C. Booth's other contributions to Critical Inquiry include "Kenneth Burke's Way of Knowing" (September 1974), "Irony and Pity Once Again: Thais Revisited" (Winter 1975), "Notes and Exchanges" (Autumn 1977), "Metaphor as Rhetoric: The Problem of Evaluation" (Autumn 1978) ,"Ten Literal 'Theses" (Autumn 1978), with Wright Morris: "The Writing of Organic Fiction: A Conversation" (Autumn 1976), and with Robert E. Streeter, W. J. T. Mitchell: "Sheldon Sacks 1930-1979" (Spring 1979).

    • 425M. H. Abrams
    • That brings me to the crux of my disagreement with Hillis Miller. The central contention is not simply that I am sometimes, or always, wrong in my interpretation, but instead that I—like other traditional historians—can never be right in my interpretation. For Miller assents to Nietzsche's challenge of "the concept of 'rightness' in interpretation," and to Nietzsche's assertion that "the same text authorizes innumerable interpretations (Auslegungen): there is no 'correct' interpretation."1 Nietzsche's views of interpretation, as Miller says, are relevant to the recent deconstructive theorists, including Jacques Derrida and himself, who have "reinterpreted Nietzsche" or have written "directly or indirectly under his aegis." He goes on to quote a number of statements from Nietzsche's The Will to Power to the effect, as Miller puts it, "that reading is never the objective identifying of a sense but the importation of meaning into a text which had no meaning 'in itself.'" For example: "Ultimately, man finds in things nothing but what he himself has imported into them." "In fact interpretation is itself a means of becoming master of something."2 On the face of it, such sweeping deconstructive claims might suggest those of Lewis Carroll's linguistic philosopher, who asserted that meaning is imported into a text by the interpreter's will to power:


      "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
      "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."


      But of course I don't believe that such deconstructive claims are, in Humpty Dumpty fashion, simply dogmatic assertions. Instead, they are conclusions which are derived from particular linguistic premises. I want, in the time remaining, to present what I make out to be the elected linguistic premises, first of Jacques Derrida, then of Hillis Miller, in the confidence that if I misinterpret these theories, my errors will soon be challenged and corrected. Let me eliminate suspense by saying at the beginning that I don't think that their radically skeptical conclusions from these premises are wrong. On the contrary, I believe that their conclusions are right—in fact, they are infallibly right, and that's where the trouble lies.


      ·  1. "Tradition and Difference," Diacritics 2 (Winter 1972): 8, 12.

      ·  2. Ibid.

      See also: Wayne C. Booth, M. H. Abrams: Historian as Critic, Critic as Pluralist

      M. H. Abrams’s contributions to Critical Inquiry include "Rationality and Imagination in Cultural History: A Reply to Wayne Booth" (Spring 1976) and "Behaviorism and Deconstruction: A Comment on Morse Peckham's 'The Infinitude of Pluralism'" (Autumn 1977).

    • 439J. Hillis Miller
    • At one point in "Rationality and Imagination in Cultural History" M.H. Abrams cites Wayne Booth's assertion that the "deconstructionist" reading of a given work "is plainly and simply parasitical" on "the obvious or univocal reading."1 The latter is Abrams' phrase, the former Booth's. My citation of a citation is an example of a kind of chain which it will be part of my intention here to interrogate. What happens when a critical essay extracts a "passage" and "cites" it? Is this different from a citation, echo, or allusion within a poem? Is a citation an alien parasite within the body of its host, the main text, or is it the other way around, the interpretative text the parasite which surrounds and strangles the citation which is its host? The host feeds the parasite and makes its life possible, but at the same time is killed by it, as "criticism" is often said to kill "literature." Or can host and parasite live happily together, in the domicile of the same text, feeding each other or sharing the food?


      · 1. Critical Inquiry 2, no. 3 (Spring 1976): 457-58. The first phrase is quoted from Wayne Booth, "M.H. Abrams: Historian as Critic, Critic as Pluralist," ibid., p. 441.

      See also: J. Hillis Miller, Ariadne's Thread: Repetition and the Narrative Line

      J. Hillis Miller's contributions to Critical Inquiry are "Ariadne's Thread: Repetition and the Narrative Line" (Autumn 1976) and "Theory and Practice: Response to Vincent Leitch" (Summer 1980).

    • 449E. H. Gombrich
    • I hope you will agree, however, that the purpose of the museum should ultimately be to teach the difference between pencils and works of art. What I have called the shrine was set up and visited by people who thought that they knew this difference. You approached the exhibits with an almost religious awe, an awe which certainly was sometimes misplaced but which secured concentration. Our egalitarian age wants to take the awe out of the museum. It should be a friendly place, welcoming to everyone. Of course it should be. Nobody should feel afraid to enter it or for that matter be kept away by his inability to pay. But as far as I can see the real psychological problem here is how to lift the burden of fear, which is the fear of the outsider who feels he does not belong, without also killing what for want of a better word I must still call respect. Such respect seems to me inseparable from the thrill of genuine admiration which belongs to our enjoyment of art. This admiration is a precious heritage which is in danger of being killed with kindness.

      See also: E. H. Gombrich, Standards of Truth: The Arrested Image and the Moving Eye

      E. H. Gombrich was director of the Warburg Institute and Professor of the History of the Classical Tradition at the University of London from 1959 to 1976. His books include The Story of Art, Art and Illusion, Meditations on a Hobby Horse, Norm and Form, Symbolic Images, The Heritage of Apelles, and In Search of Cultural History. He became a Fellow of the British Academy in 1960, a Commander of the British Empire in 1966, and was knighted in 1972. He is also a trustee of the British Museum and a foreign member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the American Philosophical Society. His contributions to Critical Inquiry include "Notes and Exchanges" (Summer 1979), "Standards of Truth: The Arrested Image and the Moving Eye" (Winter 1980), and, with Quentin Bell, "Canons and Values in the Visual Arts: A Correspondence" (Spring 1976).

    • 471Seamus Heaney
    • It is in the context of this auditory imagination that I wish to discuss the language of Ted Hughes, Geoffrey Hill, and Philip Larkin. All of them return to an origin and bring something back, all three live off the hump of the English poetic achievement, all three, here and now, in England, imply a continuity with another England, there and then. All three are hoarders and shorers of what they take to be the real England. All three treat England as a region—or rather treat their region as England—in different and complementary ways. I believe they are afflicted with a sense of history that was once the peculiar affliction of the poets of other nations who were not themselves natives of England but who spoke the English language. The poets of the mother culture, I feel, are now possessed of that defensive love of their territory which was once shared only by those poets whom we might call colonial—Yeats, MacDiarmid, Carlos Williams. They are aware of their Englishness as deposits in the descending storeys of the literary and historical past. Their very terrain is becoming consciously precious. A desire to preserve indigenous traditions, to keep open the imagination's supply lines to the past, to receive from the stations of Anglo-Saxon confirmations of ancestry, to perceive in the rituals of show Saturdays and race-meetings and seaside outings, of church-going and marriages at Whitsun, and in the necessities that crave expression after the ritual of church-going has passed away, to perceive in these a continuity of communal ways, and a confirmation of an identity which is threatened—all this is signified by their language.

      See also: James Chandler Around 1890, Seamus Heaney in Chicago

      Seamus Heaney, recognized today as one of Ireland's leading poets, has received numerous honors, among them the E. C. Gregory Award, the Cholmondeley Award, the Irish Academy of Letters Award, the Denis Devlin Award, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences E. M. Forster Award. His published poems have been collected in four volumes: Death of a Naturalist (1966), Door in the Dark (1969), Wintering Out (1972), and North (Oxford, 1976). In another form this essay was delivered as the Beckham Lecture at Berkeley in the spring of 1976. He has also contributed to the Summer 1981 issue on “Current Unstated Assumptions about Poetry” for Critical Inquiry.

    • 489Catharine R. Stimpson
    • However, Stein's self-images are more than appropriations of a male identity and masculine interests. Several of them are irrelevant to categories of sex and gender. In part, Stein is an obsessive psychologist, a Euclid of behavior, searching for "bottom natures," the substratum of individuality. She also tries to diagram psychic genotypes, patterns into which all individuals might fit. Although she plays with femaleness/maleness as categories, she also investigates an opposition of impetuousness and passivity, fire and phlegm; a variety of regional and national types; and the dualism of the "dependent independent," who tends to resist. In part, as she puzzles her way towards knowing and understanding, she presents herself as engaged in aural and oral acts, listening and hearing before speaking and telling. That sense of perception as physical also emerges in a passage in which she, as perceiver/describer, first incorporates and then linguistically discharges the world: "Mostly always when I am filled up with it I tell it, sometimes I have to tell it, sometimes I like to tell it, sometimes I keep on with telling it."1


      · 1. The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Family's Progress (Paris: Contact Editions, 1926), p. 325.

      See also: Catharine R. Stimpson, Zero Degree Deviancy: The Lesbian Novel in English

      Catharine R. Stimpson, associate professor of English at Barnard College, is the editor of Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society and the author of J.R.R. Tolkien as well as other essays and fiction.

    • 507Susan Fox
    • In his prophetic poems Blake conceives a perfection of humanity defined in part by the complete mutuality of its interdependent genders. Yet throughout the same poems he represents one of those mutual, contrary, equal genders as inferior and dependent (or, in the case of Jerusalem, superior and dependent), or as unnaturally and disastrously dominant. Indeed, females are not only represented as weak or power-hungry, they come to represent weakness (that frailty best seen in the precariously limited "emanative" state Beulah) and power-hunger ("Female Will," the corrupting lust for dominance identified with women). Blake's philosophical principle of mutuality is thus undermined by stereotypical metaphors of femaleness which I believe he adopted automatically in his early poems and then tried to redress but found himself trapped by in his late works.

      See also: Alicia Ostriker, Dancing at the Devil's Party: Some Notes on Politics and Poetry

      Susan Fox is currently working on a book of poems and has written articles on Spenser and Blake as well as Poetic Forms in Blake's Milton. She is an associate professor of English at Queens College of the City University of New York.

    • 521Jean H. Hagstrum
    • The millennial interest in the fable told by Apuleius in The Golden Ass has produced periods of intense preoccupation. Of these uses of the legend none is more interesting, varied, and profound—none possesses greater implications for contemporary life and manners—than the obsessive concern of pre-Romantic and Romantic writers and artists. Hellenistic, Roman, and early Christian culture had produced at least twenty surviving statues of Psyche alone, some seven Christian sarcophagi that used the legend, and a set of mosaics on a Christian ceiling in Rome from the early fourth century;1 and of course to late antiquity belongs the distinction of having produced the seminal telling of the tale by Apuleius in about A. D. 125. But what we possess from that remote time is thin and lacks the power to engage the modern spirit. The allegorizing and erotic responses made in the Renaissance, Mannerist, and Baroque culture produced monuments of painting that the later period cannot rival; but the impregnation of literature by the legend was slight, and the intellectual or moral content was often only a perfunctory and dutiful addendum. The revival of the story in the aesthetic movement of the late Victorians and early moderns has its examples of beauty, particularly in Rodin and in the lush harmonies and occasionally piercing melodies of César Franck's Psyché, a tone poem for chorus and orchestra; but the long retellings by Morris, Bridges, and John Jay Chapman oppress with luxuriant sweetness and remain of interest only as period pieces.


      ·  1. See Elizabeth Hazelton Haight, Apuleius and His Influence (New York, 1963), p. 164, and Maxime Collignon, "Essai sur les monuments grecs et romains . . . ," in Bibliothèque des écoles françaises d'Athène et de Rome (Paris, 1877), fasc. 2, pp. 285-446, esp. pp. 364, 436-38.

      See also: Howard Felperin, Romance and Romanticism

      Jean H. Hagstrum, John C. Shaffer Professor of English and Humanities at Northwestern University, is currently preparing a book on the theme of love in European literature and art from the mid-seventeenth century through the Romantic period. He is the author of books and articles on Blake and Samuel Johnson, and of The Sister Arts, a study of the relations of poetry and painting from antiquity through the eighteenth century.

    • 543Leon Rosenstein
    • The first view I shall investigate holds that the art form of tragedy expresses or contains certain eternal, acultural, and ahistorical facts which are "tragic" and present as such in the real or extra-artistic worlds; these facts are merely composed in tragedy as its content such that tragedy may be said to embody some perennial statement or thought about the (nonaesthetic) things that are. The assumption here is that "tragedy" is a noun which can literally be applied to describe certain facts or events we encounter in the everyday world. This term has been more specifically understood to refer to the fact of death (or certain aspects of it, such as suicide, sacrifice, transcendence, destruction), to a way of existence or human existence generally, or to a relationship existing between man and the world, or man and other men, or man and himself (or certain aspects of these relationships, such as defeat, lack of communication or communion, contradiction, conflict, etc.). Though tragedy certainly has its preferred topics, and these have sources in a world outside any given world which the particular tragedy constructs, there is surely a distinction between the world in general, with its facts, relationships, significances, and interpretations, and the particular world created by a given tragedy. This purely aesthetical creation of its own facts, relationships, significances, and interpretations is what I shall henceforth call the worked world (the art form's world or the aesthetical world) of tragedy.

      Leon Rosenstein is currently working on "Hegelian Sources of Freud's Social and Political Philosophy," a four-article series to appear during 1977. He is an associate professor of philosophy at San Diego State University.

    • 567Richard Ellmann
    • The broad outlines of Joyce's narrative are of course strongly Homeric: the three parts, with Telemachus' adventures at first separate from those of Ulysses, their eventual meeting, their homeward journey and return. Equally Homeric is the account of a heroic traveler picking his way among archetypal perils. That the Odyssey was an allegory of the wanderings of the soul had occurred to Joyce as to many before him, and he had long since designated the second part of a book of his poems as "the journey of the soul" (2:20). He had also construed Stephen's progress in A Portrait as a voyage from Scyllan promiscuity in chapter 4. Although in Ulysses he diverged sharply from Homer in the order of events, Joyce clearly adapted the Homeric settings and what he chose to consider the prevailing themes. He found the Odyssey beautifully all-embracing in its vision of human concerns. His own task must be to work out the implications of each incident like a Homer who had long ago outlived his time and had learned from all subsequent ages. Joyce once asked his friend Jacques Mercanton if God had not created the world in much the same ways as writers compose their works; but he then bethought himself and murmured, "Perhaps, in fact, he does give less thought to it than we do." Neither God nor Homer could compete with Joyce in self-consciousness.

      See also: Thomas Flanagan, Yeats, Joyce, and the Matter of Ireland

      Richard Ellmann, Goldsmiths' Professor of English Literature at Oxford University, received the 1960 National Book Award for his definitive James Joyce: A Biography. He has written extensively on Joyce and other modern writers, edited work by and about them, and examined the theoretical implications of biography in Golden Codgers. "Joyce and Homer" is a selection from his book, The Consciousness of Joyce, published by the Oxford University Press.

    • 583John Henry Raleigh
    • But Joyce did not want his hero to be either Greek or English: he wanted him to be Jewish. To that end, a third archetype, and an actual historical person, comes in: Baruch (or Benedictus) Spinoza. That Joyce himself was acquainted with Spinoza from fairly early in his career seems indubitable. In 1903 he mentioned him twice in a review of J. Lewis McIntyre's Giordano Bruno.1 Also in 1903 Joyce met Synge in Paris, and the two argued about art. Synge finally told Joyce, who was at this time forging his ironclad esthetic in Aristotelian or Thomistic terms, that he had a mind like Spinoza, a remark that Joyce passed on, presumably with some pride, to his mother and his brother. These are the only times in Joyce's life of which there is any published evidence of a connection between Spinoza and Joyce, and yet, as all readers of Ulysses know, Spinoza is Bloom's philosopher, and in Ulysses as a whole Spinoza plays a greater role than any other philosopher, including Aristotle and St. Thomas who appear, surprisingly, rarely and always, with one exception, in the Stephen Dedalus context. Spinoza ("spinooze") is also a presence in Finnegans Wake. The appeal of Spinoza to Joyce both as a man and as a mind must have been considerable.


      ·  1. How well Joyce knew Spinoza at this time is problematical. His review of McIntyre's book, entitled "The Bruno Philosophy," published in the Dublin Daily Express, 30 Oct. 1903 (and republished in James Joyce: The Critical Writings, ed. Ellsworth Mason and Richard Ellmann [New York, 1959], pp. 132-34), is done in English style, that is, the reviewer makes assertions as if they were his own when in fact they come from the author of the book under review. Thus when Joyce says, "in his attempt to reconcile the matter and form of the Scholastics . . . Bruno had hardily out forward an hypothesis, which is a curious anticipation of Spinoza" (p. 133), he is only saying what McIntyre himself had said, as the editors of The Critical Writings point out.

      In point of fact there is nothing "curious" about Bruno being a precursor of Spinoza. One of Spinoza's early mentors, Francis Van den Ende, introduced him early on to the philosophy of Bruno, who thus became one of the formative influences on Spinoza's thought.

      See also: Joyce Carol Oates, Jocoserious Joyce

      John Henry Raleigh, professor of English at the University of California at Berkeley, is the author of Matthew Arnold and American Culture; Time, Place, and Idea: Essays on the Novel; and a forthcoming book on Joyce, The Chronicle of the Blooms: "Ulysses" as Narrative. He is currently writing a book on Sir Walter Scott, "Ivanhoe" and Its Times.

    • 599James E. Miller, Jr.
    • [The Catcher in the Rye's] catalogue of characters, incidents, expressions could be extended indefinitely, all of them suggesting that Holden's sickness of soul is something deeper than economic or political, that his revulsion at life is not limited to social and monetary inequities, but at something in the nature of life itself - the decrepitude of the aged, the physical repulsiveness of the pimpled, the disappearance and dissolution of the dead, the terrors (and enticements) of sex, the hauntedness of human aloneness, the panic of individual isolation. Headlines about Korea, Dean Acheson, and the cold war seem, if not irrelevant, essentially wide of the mark - if we define the mark as the heart and soul of Catcher.


      James E. Miller, Jr., author of "Henry James in Reality" (Critical Inquiry, Spring 1976) and numerous books and articles on American literature, responds in this essay to Carol and Richard Ohmann's "Reviewers, Critics, and The Catcher in the Rye (Autumn 1976). The Ohmann's answer will appear in our summer issue.

    • 605Josephine Donovan
    • In response to the discussion between William W. Morgan and Annette Kolodny in the Summer 1976 issue of Critical Inquiry I would like to address the issue of separating judgments based on feminism as an ideology from purely aesthetic judgments. Peripherally this included the issue of "prescriptive criticism," so labeled by Cheri Register in Feminist Literary Criticism: Explorations in Theory.1 In the same book, as Kolodny points out,2  I called for criticism that exists in the "prophetic mode." Kolodny indicates reservations about both concepts (prescriptive and prophetic criticism) without fully exploring the issue. I would like to explain my statement here and to explore further the issue of feminism and aesthetics.


      When I called for criticism in the prophetic mode, I did not intend to promote an idea of the critic as ideological prophet. Rather, as I explain in the context from which the term is taken,3 I am speaking of the engaged scholar who is concerned to influence the future by her/his work today. S/he chooses her/his work with an eye to encourage political and social changes. Obviously, for a feminist this translates into a concern for a future in which women (and ultimately all human beings) will be free from many of the restrictions that have held them down in the past. Much feminist criticism is thus corrective criticism designed to redress the imbalance in current literary curricula, and more generally to reintroduce "the feminine" into the public culture.


      ·  1. Cheri Register, "American Feminist Literary Criticism: A Bibliographical Introduction ," Feminist Literary Criticism: Explorations in Theory, ed. Josephine Donovan (Lexington, Ky., 1975) pp. 11-24.

      ·  2. Annette Kolodny, "The Feminist as Literary Critic," Critical Inquiry 2 (Summer 1976): 828.

      ·  3. Josephine Donovan, "Critical Re-Vision," Feminist Literary Criticism, p. 81, n. 2.


      Josephine Donovan, currently working on a literary biography of Sarah Orne Jewett, has written "Feminist Style Criticism," "Sexual Politics in the Short Stories of Sylvia Plath," and has edited Feminist Literary Criticism: Explorations in Theory. Although the occasion for this response was the exchange between Annette Kolodny and William W. Morgan (Summer 1976), the questions raised by Ms. Donovan have some bearing on other topics discussed in Critical Inquiry—e.g., the nature of accepted canons in the arts (E. H. Gombrich and Quentin Bell [Spring 1976]). In addition the question of how we may interpret literary works from the past that contain currently unacceptable representations of women has implications as well for how we respond to "objectionable" representations of ethnic and religious groups and even of social classes. The editors expect to see these issues explored further in the future.