Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Summer 1980

Volume 6 Issue 4
    • 575John Hollander
    • Even as the philosopher can show us how to treat an object conceptually as a work of art, by regarding it in some (unavowedly figurative) context, so Cavell constantly implies that there are parables to be drawn about the way we treat the objects of our consciousness and the subjects of parts of it. But this special sort of treatment—like projective imagination itself—is not fancy or wit but more like a kind of epistemological fabling that is close to what Shelley called, in A Defense of Poetry, "moral imagination." What is so powerful—and yet elusive of the nets of ordinary intellectual expectation—in The Claim of Reason is the way in which the activities of philosophizing become synecdochic, metonymic, and generally parabolic for the activities of the rest of life itself. It is the way in which the large (in English), unphilosophical, "poetic," or "religious" questions are elicited from their precise and technical microcosms that makes so much of this book poetical, but not "literary," philosophy. When he writes of how tragedy "is the story and study of a failure of acknowledgment, of what goes before it and after it—i.e., that the form of tragedy is the public form of skepticism with respect to other minds"; or when, after brilliantly adducing The Winter's Tale in his consideration of Othello, he confronts the magic of Hermione's statue coming to life, he observes that "Leontes recognizes the fate of stone to be the consequence of his particular skepticism," the reader can perceive the kind of vast fiction in which minds, bodies, the privacy of insides, dolls, statues, and other representations figure as agents and elements. It will take longer to understand, I think, the imaginative significance of the earlier portions of the book. The philosophers who find its terrain familiar tend to have little patience with poetry; the reader whose sensibility is "literary" may be unable to distinguish between the arguments and examples, and the meta-arguments and examples, of the discussions of Wittgensteinian and Austinian method. Both kinds of readers should keep at it.

      See also: Stanley Cavell, Politics as Opposed to What?

      John Hollander, a distinguished poet and critic, is professor of English at Yale. The author of The Untuning of the Sky: Ideas of Music in English Poetry, 1500-1700, Vision and Resonance: Two Senses of Poetic Form, and The Figure of Echo, his books of poetry include Spectral Emanations and Blue Wine and Other Poems.

    • 589Stanley Cavell
    • Having just read through John Hollander's brilliant and moving response to my book, my first response in turn is one of gratitude, for the generosity of his taking of my intentions, allowing them room to extend themselves; and of admiration, at the writing of a writer who has original and useful things to say about the relations of poetry and philosophy, of fable and argument, of trope and example, relations at the heart of what my book is about. . . . I am reminded of W. H. Auden's foreword to his A Certain World: A Commonplace Book in which he recognizes that his compilation amounts to a sort of autobiography. He calls it, responding to a passage from G. K. Chesterton, "a map of my planet." The passage Auden quotes from Chesterton contains these sentences: "The original quality in any man of imagination is imagery. It is a thing like the landscape of his dreams; the sort of world he would like to make or in which he would wish to wander; the strange flora and fauna of his own secret planet; the sort of thing he likes to think about." I would like to accept the idea that I have revealed a secret planet in revealing myself, a certain errant wholeness, with the proviso that no one's planet contains anything anyone else's may not contain, or does not contain, or does not have the equivalent of; and that their contents are commonplaces, including an aspiration toward the better possibility, which I might call the life of philosophy. Philosophy, at any rate, must ask no less.


      Stanley Cavell's other works include Must We Mean What We Say?, The World Viewed, and The Senses of Walden. His contributions to Critical Inquiry are "On Makavejev On Bergman" (Winter 1979) and "North by Northwest" (Summer 1981).

    • 593Vincent B. Leitch
    • Miller undermines traditional ideas and beliefs about language, literature, truth, meaning, consciousness, and interpretation. In effect, he assumes the role of unrelenting destroyer—or nihilistic magician—who dances demonically upon the broken and scattered fragments of the Western tradition. Everything touched soon appears torn. Nothing is ever finally darned over, or choreographed for coherence, or foregrounded as (only) magical illusion. Miller, the relentless rift-maker, refuses any apparent repair and rampages onward, dancing, spell-casting, destroying all. As though he were a wizard, he appears in the guise of a bull-deconstructer loose in the china shop of Western tradition.

      See also: J. Hillis Miller, The Critic as Host

      Vincent B. Leitch, associate professor of English at Mercer University, is the editor of Robert Southwell's Marie Magdalens Funeral Teares and The Poetry of Estonia: Essays in Comparative Analysis. Sections of the present essay will appear in his The Poetics of Deconstruction, which offers a critical history and anatomy of deconstructive criticism.

    • 609J. Hillis Miller
    • Leitch speaks of his procedure with my work as employing an "abrupt asyndetic format" and as being "a metonymic montage in which themes and citations are playfully and copiously combined." One form of this playfulness is the panoply of figures he uses to describe me and my criticism. The need to use figures for this is interesting, as is their incoherence, though the figures can be shown to fall into a rough antithetical pattern. At one moment the deconstructive critic is a fairy godmother able to turn the pumpkin of the Western tradition into a phantasmal coach. He is a magician or wizard who shows that things are not what they have seemed with the great texts of our tradition or who turns them into something other than what they have seemed solidly to be, pragmatic pumpkins, unequivocally there. At the next moment the deconstructer is a disco dancer, moving sideways in the "lateral dance of interpretation" (my own image, but it was not really mine; it was taken from Tess of the d'Urbervilles, the novel I was discussing in the sentences Leitch quotes). The more or less benign fairy godmother and dancer then turns into a "nihilistic magician - who dances demonically upon the broken and scattered fragments of the Western tradition." He becomes a ferocious shaman, "Ravening, raging, and uprooting that he may come/Into the desolation of reality" (Yeats). He is "a bull-deconstructer loose in the china shop of Western tradition" (Leitch). In the next moment the bull metamorphoses into a lamb, as Leitch realizes the conservative aspects of deconstruction, the way it claims to be rescuing and preserving aspects of our culture which have always been there, both in literary and philosophical works and in the techniques of interpreting them. The same point is made more sharply and critically by William E. Cain in another recent essay on my work (College English 41, no.4. [December 1979]: 367-81). In the final paragraph of his essay, Leitch has fun inventing permutations of an image of sand in the salad from one of my essays. Will deconstruction sandblast the whole shebang, or will the alien grain of sand turn into a pearl of price?


      J. Hillis Miller is Frederick W. Hilles Professor of English at Yale. His previous contributions to Critical Inquiry are "Ariadne's Thread: Repetition and the Narrative Line" (Autumn 1976) and "The Critic as Host" (Spring 1977).

    • 615Dore Ashton
    • Rosenberg was a chronicler and a good one, yet much of his inner dialogue was not with the present so much as the omnipresent artistic past. The central question, posed early in his life, concerned a man's individuality. Dostoyevsky had called it his "dearest" possession. At no time, even in his Marxist youth, did Rosenberg relinquish his vision of the individual as the central, most important player in any drama. Rosenberg was positively possessed with Dostoyevsky's doubts. One can hear the rant of the man from the underground repeatedly in Rosenberg's written works—the stubborn hero who maintains the right even to be absurd and to "desire for himself what is positively harmful and stupid" if he claims it as a right. The right of the individual to live up to man's nature which, as Dostoyevsky said, "acts as one whole, with everything in it, conscious or unconscious" was Rosenberg's most consistent ideal.


      The individual he most admired, both in himself and in others, was the artist. But only in spite of everything. No one was more alert to the tartufferie that bedevils the world of the artist. Rosenberg craved sincerity with the same kind of passion for it he had found in Dostoyevsky. Art and artifact would not be a substitute for ethics and hard thought. Rosenberg's deepest conviction is revealed in his 1960 essay, "Literary Form and Social Hallucination," which begins with Dostoyevsky complaining about literature that does not lead to truth.

      See also: Dore Ashton, No More than an Accident?

      Dore Ashton, professor of art history at The Cooper Union, is the author of numerous works, including Abstract Art Before Columbus, Poets and the Past, A Reading Of Modern Art, and, most recently, A Fable of Modern Art. Her previous contribution to Critical Inquiry, "No More than an Accident?" appeared in the Winter 1976 issue.

    • 625Michael Riffaterre
    • Ambiguity is not the polysemy most words display as dictionary entries but results from the context's blocking of the reader's choice among competing meanings, as when, to use an example from Derrida, a French context hinders the reader from deciding whether plus de means "lack" (no more) or "excess" (more than).1 In this case, the undecidability is due entirely to the fact that the reader is playing a score, the syntax, that will not let him choose. This must be because the score is badly written; yet it is precisely this sort of willful neglect that critics have labeled poetic license, thereby underlining its literary nature. Undecidability has become a central feature in Derrida's analyses of literariness, and it is also the main underpinning of his creative writing.2 Better still, his own critical discourse has put undecidability to use, not a rare case of metalanguage imitating the very devices of the language it purports to analyze. My example are therefore drawn from Derrida on the assumption that his conscious practice of écriture, backed up by a sophisticated theory, will be particularly illuminating. For my own analysis of these phenomena, I shall be using a special word that Derrida has adopted and adapted from the terminology of ancient rhetoric. He proposes it in his commentary on this sentence of Mallarmé's: "La scène n'illustre que l'idée, pas une action effective, dans une hymen . . . entre le désir et l'accomplissement, la perpétration et son souvenir."3 Our critic points out that the grammar prevents the reader from choosing between hymen as "marriage," a symbolic union or fusion, and as "vaginal membrane," the barrier is broken through if desire is to reach what it desires. Undecidability is the effective mechanism of pantomime as an art form since from mimicry alone, without words, the spectator cannot tell whether a dreamed, or a remembered, or a present act is being set forth. This, in turn, Derrida shows to be fundamental to Mallarmé's concept of poetry. It is simply a pun or, as Derrida prefers to call it, a "syllepsis,"4 the trope that consists in understanding the same word in two different ways at the same time, one meaning being literal or primary, the other figurative.5 The second meaning is not just different from and incompatible with the first: it is tied to the first as its polar opposite or the way the reverse of a coin is bound to its obverse—the hymen as unbroken membrane is also metaphorical in both its meanings is irrelevant to its undecidability. What makes it undecidable is not that it is an image but that it embodies a structure, that is, the syllepsis.


      ·  1. See Jacques Derrida's La Dissémination (Paris, 1972), p. 307.

      ·  2. Because Derrida is a philosopher by trade, one would expect his undecidability to reflect the very precise logical and mathematical concepts of that discipline - which is to say, the limitations inherent in the axiomatic method. Kristeva, for example, tries to do this in her Le Texts du roman: Approche sèmiologique d'une structure discursive transformationnelle (The Hague, 1970), pp. 76-78. So far as I can make out, however (as a layman I have hardly been able to go beyond the relatively simplified but highly instructive exposition of the problem in Ernst Nagel and James R. Newman's Gödel's Proof [New York, 1958]), Derrida's critical theory and reading practice do not pack more into the word "undecidable" than does the definition I offer in this paper.

      ·  3. Stephane Mallarmé, Mimique, Oeuvres complètes (Paris, 1951), p. 310: "the scene [a drama, or rather a pantomime] bodies forth only an idea, not an action: it is like a hymen between desire and its realization, or between an act committed and the memory of it"; here and elsewhere, my translation unless otherwise cited. Derrida's commentary, "La Double Séance," has been rpt. in La Dissémination, pp. 199-317; see esp. pp. 240 ff.

      ·  4. See La Dissémination, p. 249.

      ·  5. This definition has prevailed ever since Dumarsais' treatise, Des Tropes (Paris, 1730). That syllepsis must be distinguished from the so-called grammatical syllepsis or the zeugma is apparent in Heinrich Lausberg's Handbuch der literarischen Rhetorik (Munich, 1960), pars. 702-7; on the acceptation chosen by Derrida, see pars. 7-8.

      See also: Michael Riffaterre, The Intertextual Unconscious

      Michael Riffaterre, Blanche W. Knopf Professor of French Literature and chairman of the department of French and Romance literatures at Columbia University, is the editor of Romantic Review. He is the author of Semiotics of Poetry, La Production du Texte, Typology of Intertextuality and A Grammar of Descriptive Poetry. "Syllepsis" developed out of seminars he led at the Irvine School of Criticism and Theory and at Johns Hopkins University.

    • 639Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan
    • Analogy among characters is not the only structural device which blurs the boundaries of the self. The very repetition of the act of narration, involving a chain of quotations, makes the story a perfect example of what Jakobson calls "speech within speech"1 and divorces the various characters from their own discourse. In addition to the real author's speech to the real reader, crystallized in that of the implied author to the implied reader, the whole story is the speech of an extradiegetic-heterodiegetic narrator who, in the footnote, calls himself "editor" and who sums up Liddell Hart's account and juxtaposes it with Yu Tsun's dictated statement. Just as the editor quotes Tsun, so Tsun, an extradiegetic-homodiegetic narrator, quotes Albert who in turn quotes Ts'ui Pên, sometimes verbatim, as in the case of the crucial letter, sometimes by conjecture, as in the instance of Pên's supposed declarations about the book and the maze. Quotation, then, is a dominant narrative mode in this story, and quotation is the appropriation by one person of the speech of another. Since a person is to a large extent constituted by one person of his discourse, such an appropriation implies, at least partly, an interpenetration of personalities. Thus both repetition through analogy and repetition through quotation threaten the absolute autonomy of the self.


      ·  1. Roman Jakobson, "Linguistics and Poetics," in Essays on the Language of Literature, ed. Seymour Chatman and Samuel R. Levin (Boston, 1967), pp. 296-322.

      See also: Jorge Luis Borges, Walt Whitman: Man and Myth

      Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan is a senior lecturer in the department of English at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The author of The Concept of Ambiguity: The Example of James, she is currently writing on the poetics of repetition and, in collaboration with Moshe Ron, on contemporary narrative theory.

    • 649Loy D. Martin
    • In a paper presented at a symposium on structuralism at the Johns Hopkins University in 1968, the historian Charles Morazé analyzed the issue of invention largely with reference to mathematics and the theory of Henri Poincare.1 Poincare, along with the physiologist Hermann von Helmholtz, was the first to put forward a theory of scientific discovery as occurring in discrete phases. In 1926, Joseph Wallas generalized this theory to apply to all creativity, positing phrases which closely resemble those of Morazé. While both Poincare and Wallas use a four-phrase model of invention, Morazé reduces his to three phrases: information, cogitation, and intellection. In information, the inventor becomes familiar with the sign systems and knowledge, the "collective contributions of society," relevant to his field of problems. Cogitation assembles these materials and concentrates them until "a certain moment" when "a light breaks through." This "sudden illumination...forces us to insist upon the neurological character" of the inventive moment. Finally, in intellection, the inventor rationally evaluates the utility of his invention and thus, in a sense, steps outside of himself and rejoins society. The distinction which organizes Morazé 's entire account, as well as most of the discussion that followed his presentation, is between the "collective" support and control of the inventor and his own individual, or "neurological," act of synthesis or creation.


      ·  1. See Charles Morazé 's "Literary Invention," in The Structuralist Controversy: The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man, ed. Richard Macksey and Eugenio Donato (Baltimore, 1972), pp. 22-55.

      See also: Nicole Jerr, Private Lives, Public Deaths: Antigone and the Invention of Individuality

      Loy D. Martin is an assistant professor of English at the University of Chicago. He has written The Language of Invention, a study of Robert Browning and the genesis of the dramatic monologue. "A Reply to Carl Pletsch and Richard Schiff" appeared in the Spring 1981 issue of Critical Inquiry.

    • 669Jay Schleusener
    • Speech-act theory is often called upon to support one of the central claims of contextualism: that works of literature differ from ordinary speech because they are not tied to an immediate social context. The distinction is simple enough. Speakers and hearers meet face-to-face in a world of concrete circumstances that has a good deal to do with what they say. Their use of language is supported by facts that help to clarify their meaning, and they understand one another partly because they share an understanding of their situation. Authors and readers, on the other hand, can hardly be said to meet anywhere at all. Their only common ground is the text, and they share nothing but the words that pass between them. Meanings that might be clear enough in the social context of ordinary speech tend toward ambiguity in this circumstantial void where author and reader must do without a common world of reference and make the best of a language that cannot rely on the casual support of facts.

      See also: Jay Schleusener, Literary Criticism and the Philosophy of Science: Rader's "Fact, Theory, and Literary Explanation"

      Jay Schleusener, an associate professor of English at the University of Chicago, is currently completing a book on Piers Plowman. His previous contribution to Critical Inquiry, "Literary Criticism and the Philosophy of Science: Rader's 'Fact, Theory, and Literary Explanation,'" appeared in the Summer 1975 issue.

    • 681John C. Sherwood
    • The principle of selection necessarily follows if we accept that a poem is a verbal structure of a very complex kind involving the interaction of all kinds of elements—ideas, images, rhythms, rhetorical features, narrative, logical patterns, whatever. The possible relationships among all these elements seem infinite or at least, in Frye's phrase, unlimited. (Although the terms used here may sound like those of a formalist, one easily could make the same point in structuralist terms, for not only must the elements within a given structure be related to other structures inside and outside the poem.) Hence, a definitive critique of any work seems, even in theory, impossible. It is hard to see how the human mind could consciously contemplate, much less articulate, all aspects at once, even in short pieces; as the various aspects are enumerated, we begin to lose sight of the wood for the trees, to lose our grip on the integrated whole which we at least partially intuit at a given moment in time. And so many are the attitudes and interests which may be brought to bear upon a poem that the critique which once seemed definitive soon seems incomplete to the critic after a further reading, for every time we read a work of any complexity, we find something new; and even the less sensitive know that each new school of criticism, not to mention each latest shift in politics, society, or psychology, will throw at least some of our masterpieces into a new light. As for translation, the only way to avoid it would be wholesale quotation, and even that would be a partial translation in that it would alter the poet's total meaning by substituting a part for the whole.


      John C. Sherwood, professor of English at the University of Oregon, is the author of articles on Dryden, modern literature, and English composition. He is currently at work on an annotated bibliography of R. S. Crane.

    • 691Howard Felperin
    • The work of Northrop Frye, evenly divided as it is between those earlier and later literatures and equally influential in both fields, will serve to illustrate the literary-historical myth I have begun to describe. "Romanticism," he writes, "is a 'sentimental' form of romance, and the fairy tale, for the most part, a 'sentimental' form of folk tale."1 Frye's terms are directly adopted from Schiller's famous essay, "Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung," though "naive" for Frye means simply "primitive" or "popular" and is not historically identified, as it is in Schiller, with "classical," while "sentimental," as in Schiller, means "later" or "sophisticated." In adopting Schiller's terms, however, Frye has also adopted, though less obviously, Schiller's historical scheme. In the theory of modes that opens the Anatomy, Frye's division of Western literature into a descending scale from "myth" through "romance," "high mimetic," and "low mimetic" to "irony" is correlated to the historical periods in which each mode successively dominates: classical, medieval, Renaissance, eighteenth century, nineteenth century, and modern. Like Schiller's starker contrast of the "naive" or classical poet in touch with the natural world and the "sentimental" or Romantic poet alienated from it by modern civilization, Frye's logical and chronological scheme conceives literary history as a process of disintegration or displacement away from the natural integrity and univocality of myth and toward the self-conscious distancing and discontinuities of irony. The history of literature moves, following hard upon an Enlightenment conception of cultural history that derives as much from Rousseau as from Schiller and Friedrich von Schlegel, from the anonymous universality of myth to the individuality or eccentricity of modern fiction. Frye systematically avoids valorizing this "progress of poetry" in any of the ways it has been successively valorized by various schools of ancients and moderns, classics and Romantics, over the past three centuries. Yet he nonetheless repeats the historical scheme that underlies and generates these schools and their quarrels in the first place. It may turn out that the weakness of Frye's rehabilitation of romance is not his avoidance of history, as is commonly charged, but his inability to do without a version of it.


      ·  1. Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton, N.J., 1957), p. 35.


      Howard Felperin is the author of Shakespearean Romance and Shakespearean Representation. He has taught at Harvard, the University of California, and Yale and is currently Robert Wallace Professor of English at the University of Melbourne, Australia.

    • 707Cary Nelson
    • Sontag is certainly attracted to the aesthetic she describes but not so wholeheartedly as many readers have assumed.1 One of the ironies of her career has been her reputation as an enthusiast for works toward which she actually expresses considerable ambivalence. Many of her essays include overt advocacy, but it is rarely uncomplicated or uncompromised.2 Despite her reputation for partisanship, she more typically begins her essays by recounting an experience of alienation, annoyance, uncertainty, or shock. For example, she describes the "happening" as an event "designed to tease and abuse the audience"3 and speaks of the "profoundly discouraging," even "hopeless," emotions of her first days in North Vietnam. She is, therefore, often motivated by her sense of difference from the event or object she describes. But it is not her wish merely to find ways of assimilating and dominating unpleasant or alien experience; while that is certainly one of the main impulses in her work - to control apparently impossible subjects, to exhilarate in the Nietzschean will to power over the text - her will to power is always countered by a need to credit and honor the text's otherness. Sontag never finally assumes an easy familiarity with her subject but rather draws its difficult and negating otherness ever closer to herself. Her work may be understood, in a way, as a search for a text that is utterly unknowable, a text that will always elude and contradict what we may say about it, a text, in short, that cannot be contaminated by critical rhetoric. That is a quality she has recently attributed to Artaud's work: "Like Sade and Reich, Artaud is relevant and understandable, a cultural monument, as long as one mainly refers to his ideas without reading much of his work. For anyone who reads Artaud through, he remains fiercely out of reach, an unassimilable voice and presence."4


      ·  1. There is, to be sure, an atmosphere of iconoclasm and intellectual challenge about Sontag's criticism, but it is not especially self-congratulatory. She is only interested in difficult topics or in topics whose difficulties have been repressed, partly because that context energizes her mind and partly, as she has written of Diane Arbus, because she wants "to violate her own innocence, to undermine her sense of being privileged" (On Photography [New York, 1977], p. 43)

      ·  2. The exception is some of the early reviews included in Against Interpretation, where the polemical requirements of the occasion distinguish those brief judgments from her more careful and extended pieces.

      ·  3. Sontag, Against Interpretation (New York, 1966), p. 267.

      ·  4. Sontag, "Artaud," Antonin Artaud: Selected Writings (New York, 1976), p. lix.


      Cary Nelson teaches critical theory at the University of Illinois. He is the author of The Incarnate Word: Literature as Verbal Space and Our Last First Poets: Vision and History in Contemporary American Poetry and Reading Criticism: The Literary Status of Critical Discourse.

    • 727Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
    • What should be immediately apparent to any writer of realistic fiction is its unreal or synthetic nature. Regardless of how persuasive the forgery appears, it is still a forgery. The colors of the painting are not identical to those of the real world. The illusion of similarity is achieved by trickery. The houses of realistic novels are like those found on a stage set; they are there to lend reality and weight to what is important, which may be a conversation between two realistically dressed people, walking in front of the novels' realistic buildings, conversing about something which would, in actuality, be impossible to talk about openly, something which would, ordinarily, seem impossible to take seriously as a motive for violent emotion which leads to violent action. No matter how expertly and exactly a novelist's world duplicates common reality, the duplication must be a means to an end. Duplication itself is not the novel's goal. If it were, the novelist would be properly defined as a camera which takes pictures with words or as a maker of verbal documentaries who strives to capture the passing scene. This is an axiom which must appear self-evident to both the writer and the audience. However, when I wrote Anya (New York, 1975), I found that this self-evident truth provided random and unreliable light; if this truth had been a source of electricity, it would be safe to say that its failure to illuminate caused a blackout of comprehension for many critics and readers.


      Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, professor of English at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, is the author of Falling, Anya, and Time in Its Flight, several collections of poetry, including Rhymes and Runes of the Toad and Alphabet for the Lost Years, and, most recently, The Queen of Egypt and Other Stories.

    • 739Lawrence W. Hyman
    • That there is something not altogether honest about a didactic novel can be seen once we imagine a novel which violates our political sympathies or our moral principles, such as a novel that shows the Nazis or the American soldiers at My Lai as heroes. We certainly would not like this novel. But could we refute it because of our certain knowledge that these men, in real life, were murderers? I don't think so, since a skillful writer could easily make his characters act heroically in the situation—and even make us dislike their victims. Could we say that the situation is false? Perhaps, but since the actions and the characters are fictional, what does it mean to refute them? We can say that a novel is bad or unconvincing if the characters do not resemble people in real life or if the actions do not satisfy our sense of logic or probability. But these are literary objections, not political ones. And because the writer cannot be refuted by evidence from the real world, he cannot make pronouncements about this world. For example, even if there were evidence that no slave resembled Tom and no overseer resembled Legree, such evidence could not refute the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. And as Moody Prior points out in his essay ("Mrs. Stowe's Uncle Tom," Critical Inquiry 5 [Summer 1979]: 635-50), our disagreement with the philosophy of spiritual, rather than physical resistance to slavery cannot take away the heroism of Tom's action. His final act of forgiveness is indeed Christ-like, and no philosophy of political activism which is validated by, let us say, our admiration for Tom within the novel cannot validate Tom's kind of inward action in the real world. If it did, then our admiration for Tom, a fictional character, would prelude our support for a more active resistance to oppression. But, of course, it does not, or at least it should not, if we are to see fiction as performing a different role than politics and philosophy.


      Lawrence W. Hyman, professor of English at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, is the author of The Quarrel Within: Art and Morality in Milton's Poetry. His previous contribution to Critical Inquiry, "The 'New Contextualism' Has Arrived: A Reply to Edward Wasiolek," appeared in the Winter 1975 issue.

    • 743Strother Purdy
    • We differ mainly, I think, in that Hyman is willing to indulge his taste for subtlety more extensively than I am. He seems comfortable with post-modern paradoxes like "the tendency of a literary work to refuse to give us a moral direction is itself a value" and believes that this refusal is properly based on the writer's incapacity to "make pronouncements about [the] world." It could be I mistake him here, and he means only to reject those solutions toutes faites that are part of the didactic mode, in which case I agree once more. But I feel the thrust of his argument is to deny the existence of the first of the two abysses, frivolity and propaganda, into which, according to Camus, it is the task of the writer to keep from falling. To seek a strengthening of moral commitment in a literature that operates at "a level of awareness deeper than our moral and political judgments" is certainly to avoid exposure to propaganda; but it is also something of a logical—and psychological—contradiction in terms and therefore doomed to irrelevance or, in Camus' terms, frivolity. One cannot answer for individual variations on common aesthetic experiences, of course; there exist men and women and literary characters who find strength to take a moral stand in the contemplation of a Chinese jar or in what I called harpsichord exercises—the term includes, after all, Das wohltemperiertes Klavier—but such experiences, for all their abstract beauty, lack a social basis and a social relevance. The mimetic imperative is not so easily bypassed.


      Strother Purdy, professor of English at Marquette University, is the author of The Hole in the Fabric: Science, Contemporary Literature, and Henry James. He has also contributed "Stalingrad and My Lai: A Literary-Political Speculation" to Critical Inquiry.

    • 746John Reichert
    • If we are capable of changing our minds—of rejecting, that is, one hypothesis for another—the issue becomes one of the criteria which govern our choices. Are they, as [Stanley] Fish would argue, dependent on "beliefs" and "assumptions"? Perhaps, at some very fundamental level, they are. But I do not think Fish has succeeded in showing them to be so. Certainly the criteria are independent of anything so specific as beliefs about the nature of literature or the human mind. Who among us, for example, whatever the object of interpretation, would choose one on the grounds of its greater inconsistency, or on the grounds of its accounting for fewer of the facts that we want to explain, or on the grounds of its being unnecessarily complicated? On the contrary, do we not tend to argue, as Fish does so effectively, as if counterexamples and inconsistencies tell against an hypothesis? It may be the case that our cherished beliefs (in the unconscious, say, or in ordinary language, or in progress) often make it difficult in practice even to formulate our questions in ways that allow such criteria as I have hinted at to come into play. But why should hard work discourage us?


      John Reichert is the chairman of the English department at Williams College and the author of Making Sense of Literature. He has contributed "But That Was in Another Ball Park: A Reply to Stanley Fish" to Critical Inquiry.

    • 749Stanley E. Fish
    • What I would add, and what Reichert seems unable to see, is that the facts of the text do not identify themselves. He faults Roskill for failing to see that coherence is not a function of the text but of "principles we bring to the text"; yet he himself does not see that the text, insofar as one can point to it, is produced by those same principles. Indeed, Reichert is continually doing the very thing for which he criticizes Roskill, attributing to the text qualities and features that are the product of interpretive strategies. Thus, for example, he cites the instance of "the interpreter . . . noticing something in the text that makes his former reading seem implausible" as evidence that the text is at some level independent of interpretation; but noticeability is a function of what it is possible to notice given a particular set of assumptions: a reader innocent of the principles of typology would be incapable of "noticing" a typological pattern, whereas for a reader like Madsen, the pattern will seem to announce itself; and a reader who "notices" something he didn't "notice" before is a reader who (for a variety of reasons that one could discuss) is proceeding within a different set of interpretive assumptions. That which is noticeable, in short, can never be the means of confirming or constraining interpretations because it is always a product of one. The same argument dissolves the distinction, invoked by Reichert, between extratextual and textual evidence; it is not that such a distinction is never in force (it almost always is) but that what counts as internal and external evidence will vary according to the interpretive principles one espouses. Just what is and what is not extratextual is a matter of continual debate, and when the debate has been (temporarily) concluded, it is not because the matter has been settled by the facts but because one set of interpretive principles has won the right to say what the facts are.


      Stanley E. Fish is the author of, among other works, Is There a Text in This Class: The Sources of Interpretative Authority. His contributions to Critical Inquiry include "Facts and Fictions: A Reply to Ralph Rader" (June 1975), "Interpreting the Variorum" (Spring 1976), "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), and "A Reply to John Reichert; or, How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love Interpretation" (Autumn 1979).

    • 752Leonard Dean
    • Editor's Note: We are happy to print the following comment by Leonard Dean as a reminder that the arbitrary, improvisatory nature of practical criticism (dignified by certain theorists under the rubric of bricolage) has its origins in a much more homely and familiar phenomenon.


      A muddler naturally feels flattered by any kind of praise from the world of theory, as, for example, by Robert Scholes' generous remark that "muddling along, in literary theory as in life, is often more humane and even more efficient than the alternatives offered by political, ethical, or aesthetic systems. We may in fact 'know' more than we can systematize about certain kinds of human behavior, so that our intuitions may indeed be superior to our more reasoned positions" ("Toward a Semiotics of Literature," Critical Inquiry 4 [Autumn 1977]: 105). For a moment praise like that makes a muddler feel the way the ghost of Shakespeare must have felt when he was called a natural genius in the days of the Rules, but then you remember how it really was and is. Like Shakespeare and the New Dealers we patched things together under pressure, and like them we borrowed from anybody. New critical methods were a godsend for anyone who was trying to revive an old survey course into a discussion of literature, and equally useful were old critical methods like those used by Dr. Johnson for the job of general public education.