Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Winter 1977

Volume 4 Issue 2
    • 215Kenneth Burke
    • Underlying these pages is the assumption that, since we begin life as speechless bodies, the radicality of religious and poetic utterance somehow retains its relation to these origins, though in maturing we develop far from the order of reality we began with. Such expression must be rooted in man's primal essence as a speechless body, albeit there develops the technical "grace" of language (and of symbolicity in general, that "perfects" nature and is not reducible to terms of such sheerly physiological grounding).


      I take it that the body, as a physiological organism, is always behaving in the "specious present." Though we, as "persons," may anticipate or recall, the body as such is always behaving in a certain way now.


      If a believer is praying, his body cannot lie. If he is offering a prayer of thanks and really means it, his body behaves in one way. If he doesn't really mean it, his body behaves in a different way, though the vocables uttered in the prayer may be the same in both cases, and they may sound much less sincere to us if we hear them uttered by a genuine believer than as uttered by an accomplished tartuffe. In that sense it is by the speechless body that the person communicates with the nature of things.

      Kenneth Burke develops in this essay some behavioristic speculations that first exercised him in an early volume, Permanence and Change (1935). Those speculations are pursued further in an essay, "(Nonsymbolic) Motion / (Symbolic) Action," which appears in the Summer 1978 issue of Critical Inquiry. His other contributions are "In Response to Booth: Dancing with Tears in my Eyes" (September 1974), "A Critical Load, Beyond that Door; or, Before the Ultimate Confrontation; or, When Thinking of Deconstructionist Structuralists; or, A Hermeneutic Fantasy" (Autumn 1978), and "Methodological Repression and/or Strategies of Containment" (Winter 1978).

    • 221Jean Ricardou
    • Nothing, one day, seemed more imperative to me than the project of composing a book whose fiction would be constructed not as the representation of some preexistent entity, real or imaginary, but rather on the basis of certain specific mechanisms of generation and selection. The principle of selection may be called overdetermination. It requires that every element in the text have at least two justifications. In this perspective, each element is invested with a coefficient of overdetermination. If there is a choice to be made between two overdetermined elements, the one with the highest coefficient of overdetermination will always be chosen. This principle, as we might expect, was not elected at random: it corresponds to any text construed as nonlinear. Take, for example, the simplest element, with a coefficient of two. A double relation connects it with the text: the one due to its place in the written line (commonly called a horizontal relation), and the one linking it with some other element in the text (a vertical relation). By operating at a maximum level of multiple determinations, the text is elaborated by means of a maximum number of transversal relations, in a field diametrically opposed to the realm of the linear.


      Jean Ricardou is equally well known for his fiction, including L'Observatoire de Cannes (Les Editions de Minuit, 1961), La Prise de Constantinople (Minuit, 1965), Les Lieux-dits (Gallimard, 1969), and Les Révolutions Minuscules (Gallimard, 1971), and his criticism, including Problèmes du Nouveau Roman (Le Seuil, 1967), Pour une Theorie du Nouveau Roman (Le Seuil, 1971), and Le Nouveau Roman (Le Seuil, 1973), LE PARADIGME d' Albert Ayme (Carmen Martinez, 1977), and a collection of essays, Nouveaux Problèmes du Roman. His "Composition Discomposed" appeared in the Autumn 1976 issue of Critical Inquiry. Erica Freiberg regularly translates Jean Ricardou's works. She holds degrees in French and Italian, philosophy and modern literature from the University of Paris (Sorbonne) and the University of Geneva.

    • 231Joseph Frank
    • My own contribution relates to twentieth-century literature, where "spatialization" enters so fundamentally into the very structure of language and the organization of narrative units that, as [Frank] Kermode is forced to concede, "Frank says quite rightly that a good deal of modern literature is designed to be apprehended thus." His deals with the literature of the past, where "spatialization" (or, as he calls it, plot-concordance) was still the tendency which had by no means yet emerged in as radical a manner as in modernity. Both may be seen, and should be seen, as part of a unified theory which has the inestimable advantage of linking experimental modernism with the past in an unbroken continuity, and in viewing the present, not as a break, but rather as a limit-case, an intensification and accentuation of potentialities present in literature almost from the start. One of Kermode's essential aims, in The Sense of an Ending, was precisely to argue in favor of continuity and to reject the schismatic notion that a clean break with the past was either desirable or possible. It seems to me that he succeeded better than he knew, and that in polemicizing with spatial form" he merely perpetuates a schism which the deeper thrust of his own ideas has done much to reveal as nugatory and obsolete.

      See also: Joseph Frank, Spatial Form: Some Further Reflections

      Joseph Frank is professor of comparative literature and director of the Christian Gauss seminars in criticism at Princeton University. His many important contributions include The Widening Gyre: Crisis and Mastery in Modern Literature and Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821-1849, for which he received the James Russell Lowell Prize of the MLA.

    • 253Eric S. Rabkin
    • Novels in general use three different modes of reporting: narration, dialogue and description. Understanding that even with a given mode, such as the description of a stone, the relation between the diachronic flow of language and the synchronic focus of attention can be manipulated, we can still note that in general narration reports occurrences in a reading time considerably less than actual time. ("He ran all the way home"), dialogue reports occurrence in a reading time roughly congruent with actual time ("How are you?" "Fine"), and description reports occurrences in a reading time considerably greater than actual time ("The stone weighted heavily in his hand, clammy yet deeply textured, the solidity of its feel somehow incompatible with the delicacy of its silver veining"). Thus, in the interweaving of narration, dialogue and description a narrative not only defamiliarizes what it reports but guides the reader's consciousness through rhythms of correspondence between reading time and actual time. As long as we do not stay entirely in one mode—and we never do—these rhythms adjust the movement of our consciousness so that unconsciously at least we more or less approach synchronicity, depending on the particular techniques—but we never achieve it. Spatial form may be thought of as a tendency, but in ordinary language it is never achieved.

      See also: Eric S. Rabkin, Metalinguistics and Science Fiction

      Eric S. Rabkin is professor of English at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. The author of Narrative Suspense, The Fantastic in Literature, and many articles on science fiction, he is also the coauthor of Form in Fiction and Science Fiction: History, Science, Vision. He contributed "Metalinguistics and Science Fiction" to the Autumn 1979 issue of Critical Inquiry.

    • 271William Holz
    • One measure of the validity of [Joseph] Frank's insight is the extent to which other versions of his ideas appear in other contexts: for if "spatial form" refers to something real, it cannot have escaped notice by other readers. One thinks, for example, of Northrop Frye's description of the critic viewing all the elements of the poem as a simultaneous array before him; or of Gaston Bachelard's evocative descriptions of The Poetics of Space. Or Pound's interest in ideographic script; or the frequent critical association of modern literature with impressionist painting. Or Eliot's poet synthesizing Spinoza, the sound of the typewriter, and the smell of cookery into a unified whole. Or—at the root of it all, perhaps—Poe's insistence on the unified effect of the story or poem.1 All of these instances reflect a more or less casual assumption of the basic premise of Frank's essay. More recently another critic, Frank Kermode, has offered an alternative description of this general problem. In The Romantic Image2 he assesses symbolist poetic theory; here the verbal image (or symbol), autonomous and autotelic, presumably unites meaning and feeling without intervening reflection or discourse: the "image" so hypostatized seems very close to a "spatial" form, and certainly the suppression of discourse, of reflection generally, follows from the disruption of syntax and narrative that results from the impulse toward "spatial" effects. Provisionally, we might say that Joseph Frank's essay is grounded in an essentially formalist conception of the literary work as artifact, and that the striking features of his argument result from an attempt to assimilate extended works (poetry as well as fiction) to a theory basically lyric in its orientation: as corollary, we must assume that the modern writers he cites had themselves operationally defined the concept in the course of their writing.


      ·  1. Northrop Frye, "Literary Criticism," in The Aims and Methods of Scholarship in Modern Languages and Literature, ed. James Thorpe (New York, 1963), p.65. See also Fables of Identity: Studies in Poetic Mythology (New York, 1963), p. 21. Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, trans. Maria Jolas (New York, 1964). Ernest Fenollosa, The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry, ed. Ezra Pound (San Francisco, 1969). T.S. Eliot, "The Metaphysical Poets," Selected Essays (New York, 1950), p. 247. Edgar Allan Poe, review of Twice-Told Tales, in Works, 17 vols., ed. James A. Harrison (New York, 1902) 11: 104-13.

      ·  2. Frank Kermode, The Romantic Image (London, 1957).


      William Holtz, professor of English at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is currently preparing an edition of an unpublished juvenile manuscript by Charlotte Brontë.

    • 285Marcel Franciscono
    • Because of their basic level, textbooks show the assumptions and biases of art historians more clearly than does advanced, and therefore more restricted, scholarship. Textbooks are the rock, as it were, within which lie the strata of historical method. They bury, and so preserve for the good and ill of students (at least for a while), not so much individual historical data, which can be picked up or rejected rather easily, as those things which give the appearance of intellectual grasp to historical writing: its generalizations, its interpretations, its sweeping perspectives.


      The successive editions of Helen Gardner's Art through the Ages can tell us much about the assumptions that have pervaded art historical education in America over the past century. The first edition, published fifty years ago last year, is worth looking at in some detail, because for all its seminal importance in the teaching of art history it is by now little more than a deposit in library stacks. A mere glance will show that it is not ours. Indeed, the distance we have gone since then is exactly measured by the gaucheries it displays. It is half the length of modern surveys, and it makes no pretense either to completeness or to objectivity. It is arranged by period and style until we reach the Renaissance (which extends from 1300 to 1600), at which point, in keeping with the interest of an earlier age in national characteristics, each country receives its due chapter. The Italian Renaissance, as befits the central position of the primitives in American taste then, has four chapters to itself. Thereafter, except for a final, brief section on contemporary art, each national school is taken to the period of its decline. This, of course, will vary. France is taken through Cézanne; England through the Pre-Raphaelites and William Morris; Spain, thanks to Goya, into the early nineteenth century; and Dutch and Flemish art only through the seventeenth century, but without Bosch or Bruegel. As for Germany, though the chapter heading promises us "From the Gothic Age to the Nineteenth Century," in fact it is on Durer and Holbein. What fulfills the promise of the title appears in its entirety thus: "After the death of these two masters, largely on account of exhaustion from wars there was very little production, until the second great manifestation of the German people came in the music of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries."1 No pretense here at dutiful compilation; high points, after all, are high points.


      ·  1. Helen Gardner, Art through the Ages: An Introduction to Its History and Significance (New York, 1926), p. 345.

      See also: Quentin Bell, The Art Critic and the Art Historian

      Marcel Franciscono is the author of Walter Gropius and the Creation of the Bauhaus in Weimar. He is associate professor of art history at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

    • 299Albert William Levi
    • It is necessary to realize first of all that the concept of culture is founded upon two closely related dichotomies: that between the natural and artificial and that between the chaotic and the orderly. In its most primitive signification, culture means simply the imposition of an exquisite order upon the raw givenness of experience. In this sense, nature represents the immediacy of need, culture its formalization. Man may be "a rational animal," as Aristotle said, but in possessing the rational potential which he intermittently actualizes, he never ceases to remain an animal grounded immediately in hunger, lust, and the multiple instances of natural desire. Plato waged a never-ending struggle against the lawless outbreak of the natural appetites, and his efforts to curb, discipline, and form them is a primitive paradigm of the activity of culture. Man's capacity for thought and reason, for sociality and humane consideration has made him a sculpture-building animal and has made it possible for him, as Cassirer said, to live in a symbolic universe which he has himself created. But while his basic reality is not physical but cultural and spiritual, his anchorage forever remains that of nature and of animal need. The measure of culture is, therefore, a measure of artistic transformation.

      See also: Albert William Levi, “De Interpretatione": Cognition and Context in the History of Ideas

      Albert William Levi is the author of The Idea of Culture, of which this essay is a part. The David May Distinguished University Professor of the Humanities at Washington University, St. Louis, he is the author of Philosophy and the Modern World; Literature, Philosophy and the Imagination; Humanism and Politics; and Philosophy as Social Expression. His "De interpretatione: Cognition and Context in the History of Ideas" appeared in Critical Inquiry, Autumn 1976.

    • 331Walter Blair
    • During nearly two centuries, American storytellers have celebrated comic figures, ebullient showoffs who turned up on one frontier after another—in the old South, in Kentucky and Tennessee, along the great inland rivers, in the mountains and the mines and on the prairies. Often, the stories went, when these characters engaged in a favorite pastime—playfully bragging about their strength, their skill and their exploits—they used animal metaphors such as Opossum, Screamer, Half-Horse Half-Alligator, the Big Bear of Arkansas or Gamecock of the Wilderness to furnish nicknames. Often they were also identified as fictional or real frontiersmen—Mike Fink, Nimrod Wildfire, Jim Doggett, Pecos Bill—and tall tales clustered around them. Explaining a metaphor and a nickname, an Ohio newspaper in 1830 cited the most famous braggart of this sort: "Ring-tailed roarer—A most vicious fellow—a Crockett." . . . The stories did not have to have roots in reality and often were not new. The real Crockett was well built, handsome, ruddy-cheeked. But traditional jokes made ugliness a funny quality. Falstaff claimed Bardolph's crimson proboscis glowed with a flame that made torches inoperative. The Spectator in 1711 told about "Spectator's" election to England's Ugly Club. Joke 177 in Joe Miller's Jests (1739) was about the British kingdom's champion ugly man. When Gus Longstreet entered law school in Litchfield, Connecticut, in 1813, a student welcomed him: "Here, sir, is a knife always given to the ugliest student. . . . Until now it has been mine, but beyond doubt, sir, since you are here, I have now no right to it any longer." Andy Jackson—"Old Hickory"—won a like award. (So in time would Lincoln.) Lore had it that Davy was so repulsive looking that if he grinned at a raccoon, it tumbled from its tree. Once, worried because he grinned and grinned without bringing down his victim, he was relieved when a close look showed he had mistaken a knot for a beast. All the same, he had grinned all the bark off the branch.


      Walter Blair is professor emeritus in the department of English at the University of Chicago. His many influential works include Native American Humor and Horse Sense in American Humor. "Americanized Comic Braggarts" appears in a slightly different version in the book (coauthored with Hamlin Hill) America's Humor from Poor Richard to Doonesbury.

    • 351Tzvetan Todorov
    • What is The Awkward Age about? It is not easy to answer that apparently simple question. But the reader can take consolation from the fact that the characters themselves seem to have just as much trouble understanding as he does.


      Actually, a large proportion of the words exchanged in this novel—a novel made up, moreover, almost exclusively of conversations—consists of requests for explanation. These questions may touch upon different aspects of discourse and reveal various reasons for obscurity. The first, the simplest and the rarest, is an uncertainty about the very meaning of words; it is like the uncertainty a foreigner would naturally feel whose knowledge of the language was imperfect: the questions here are matters of vocabulary. In The Awkward Age there are no foreigners who speak bad English, but one of the characters, Mr. Longdon, has for a long time lived far from London; now that he has come back, he has the feeling that he no longer understands the meaning of words, and, in the course of his first conversations at least, he often asks questions like: "What do you mean by early?" "What do you mean by the strain?"1 These questions, innocent as they appear, nevertheless require those to whom they are addressed both to explain and to take full responsibility for the meaning of the words—that is why the questions sometimes provoke lively refusals. "What do you mean by fast?" Mr. Longdon asks again, but the response of the Duchess is cutting: "What should I mean but what I say?" (p. 194). We shall see, however, that the Duchess' own niece is a victim of the same disorder—not understanding the meaning of words.


      ·  1. P. 43. References are to the Penguin Modern Classics edition (London, 1975). All further references will appear in the text.

      See also: Tzvetan Todorov, “Race," Writing, and Culture

      Tzvetan Todorov has written numerous books on literary theory, the last of which is Théories du symbole (1977), and has translated the works of the Russian Formalists into French. Two of his books have been translated into English, The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre and Poetics of Prose. He is editor (with Gérard Genette) of the journal Poétique and works as Maître de recherche at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris. "The Last Barthes" appeared in the Spring 1981 issue of Critical Inquiry.

    • 373Elder Olson
    • When the activity depicted in a poem involves a succession of moments, it may take one of two possible forms: simple or complex. A simple activity is like a straight line; that is, it involves progression in a single direction, then in another. This changing of course, so to speak, is called a turning point or reversal. Every complex activity contains at least one such turning point; and it is possible to have a good many turning points if the action is long enough, as in an epic like the Odyssey, which in fact is full of reversals, for Odysseus or his men or those whom they encounter are always getting into danger and then out of it, or else doing something and having to produce an opposite effect to the one intended; and of course all such things are reversals. . . . Generally speaking, we feel emotions more powerfully when they come upon us unexpectedly. Unexpected good fortune seems even better than it is, unexpected misfortune even worse, by comparison with what we had expected: consequently we respond with greater emotion. Since reversals always involve something of the unexpected, the complex form of activity offers more possibility of emotional power than the simple. The reversal must be unexpected if it is to be effective, and must be probable; the complex activity must therefore always contain an apparent or on-the-surface probability, which founds our expectation, and the real probability, which defeats it. The real probability must be more probable than the apparent, for otherwise we should not accept it; and it must be hidden (that is, concealed by the poet), for otherwise we should expect it as the more probable.

      See also: Elder Olson, The Poetic Process

      Part I of a "Conspectus of Poetry" appeared in the Autumn 1977 issue of Critical Inquiry. Elder Olson's contributions to Critical Inquiry are "The Poetic Process" (Autumn 1975) and "On Value Judgments in the Arts" (September 1974).

    • 397Wallace Martin
    • In view of Hartman's article, the canny critic might with some justice claim that the dispute is actually one between Anglo-American and Continental traditions and arm himself with all the historical and philosophical resources that the former can provide. Occam's razor and the armed vision might in the end prove equal to Nietzsche's hammer and the broken hammer that haunts the pages of Heidegger. However, the canny critic will realize that no matter how armed, he would still lose the argument because of his refusal to relinquish one resource that in the end constitutes his irreducible commitment to his tradition: his assumption that the debate should be conducted in accordance with rules he knows and understands. Through a Hegelian Aufhebung in critical controversy, it is now precisely those rules that are in question. What is at stake is not something that can be decided by rational arguments, but our shopworn conception of rationality itself; not logic, but the question of whether or not our logic is an a posteriori construction of a more primal rhetoric; not truth, but the devious ways in which this concept is used to mask the will to power. And finally, given that these are serious questions, they will be misunderstood if there is no room for play in discussing them.


      Wallace Martin, professor of English at the University of Toledo in Ohio, is the author of The New Age under Orage and is preparing a book on the theory of criticism. He responds in this essay to Geoffrey Hartman's "Literary Criticism and Its Discontents" (Winter 1976).

    • 407Geoffrey Hartman
    • Wallace Martin's response to "Literary Criticism and Its Discontents" is anything but naive. Its most sophisticated device is to posit my invention of a "naive reader" and to suggest that I would place the New Critics and their heirs in that category. But when I see the movement of criticism after Arnold as exhibiting an anti-self-consciousness principle or being so worried about a hypertrophy of the critical spirit that the spirit is acknowledged only by refusing its seminal or creative force, I am not alleging naiveté but "organized innocence," or the privileged assignment of some given, intuitive (in that sense naïve) power of creation to the area of art which excludes the area of philosophy or philosophically-minded commentary. This defensive partition of the critical and the creative spirit, which recognizes the intelligence of the creative writer but refuses the obverse proposition that there may be creative force in the critical writer, I have elsewhere named the Arnoldian concordat.


      Geoffrey Hartman, professor of English and comparative literature at Yale University, is the author of Criticism in the Wilderness.