Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Winter 1979

Volume 6 Issue 2
    • 183Ralph W. Rader
    • Behind all of Sheldon Sacks' writing and teaching lay an intense belief in the objectivity of literary experience and our capacity to achieve a shared conceptual understanding of the forms which underlie it. Literary criticism for him was not the critic's unique and unrepeatable performance but a serious inquiry—a critical inquiry—seeking explicit and precise explanatory concepts which others could grasp, test, and build upon. His effort was to show that we could in significant measure understand and explain literature and its value as standing independent of our understanding and explanation, and it was this double emphasis on the real being of literature and the possibility of valid conceptualization of it which gave his thought its appeal for those whom it influences. His creative constitution—and the length and circumstances of his life—were such as to allow only the one sustained effort of Fiction and the Shape of Belief and a series of articles in which he modified and expanded the application of the ideas developed therein. Yet in this relatively small body of work he revised and extended the ideas of the Chicago School within which he worked so as to achieve what seem to me genuine advances in the explicit conception of novelistic forms—what might be called portable ideas, sharp and definite enough to be adopted and used and in their turn revised and redefined by others; this sets them apart from much critical work and marks their value and his intention.

      See also: Ralph W. Rader, Fact, Theory, and Literary Explanation

      Ralph W. Rader, chairman of the department of English at the University of California at Berkeley, is the author of Tennyson's "Maud": The Biographical Genesis. His previous contributions to Critical Inquiry are "Fact, Theory, and Literary Explanation" (Winter 1974), "Explaining Our Literary Understanding: A Response to Jay Schleusener and Stanley Fish" (June 1975), and "The Dramatic Monologue and Related Lyric Forms" (Autumn 1976).

    • 193Lawrence Lipking
    • Now Shelly should be allowed a word. The way I have formulated the problem, he reminds me, suffers from glibness if not actual misrepresentation; above all in my tendency to equate artistic ends with artistic conventions. I accuse him of rigidity, yet define the western far more rigidly than he would do, even to the point of suggesting that a novel with real Indians in it would no longer be a western. Generic laws are not so arbitrary. The end of a work of art, as he understands it, cannot be located merely in some set of formal requirements (14 lines of rhyming iambic pentameter) or reproducible actions (the U.S. Cavalry rides to the rescue). We do not make works of art by satisfying a checklist of conventions. Rather, the ends obeyed by a work of art—a concrete whole—derive from the total effect that it tries to achieve. In a well-constructed piece of fiction, every element, including the ethical statements and implied moral judgments, contributes to and is subordinate to that total effect. Hence the seeming contradiction between artistic ends and moral means turns out, on analysis, to be illusory. An artistic end can accommodate any degree of moral complexity, even ethical ambiguities and contradictions, so long as they help shape the whole. Even Blifil could have been a richly complex character, if Fielding had wanted him to be, so long as his complexity had been made functional to the desired effect of Tom Jones. Only incompetent or convention-bound novelists find themselves compelled to make insincere judgments. A good novelist learns to advance his ends by every means, from his most outrageous leaps of the imagination to his most subtle ethical discriminations. If a good novel communicates some tension or internal contradictions, we have no right to conclude that such an effect was forced on the novelist against his will. Perhaps that tension manifests or articulates the author's most sincere and profound moral convictions.

      See also: Lawrence Lipking, Aristotle's Sister: A Poetics of Abandonment

      Lawrence Lipking, Chester Tripp Professor of the Humanities at Northwestern University, is the author of The Ordering of the Arts in Eighteenth-Century England and coeditor of Modern Literary Criticism 1900-1970. He is currently completing a work dealing with poetic careers, which is to be included in a larger project, The Poet-Critics, and is studying the literary tradition of "abandoned women." His previous contribution to Critical Inquiry, "The Marginal Gloss," appeared in the Summer 1977 issue.

    • 209James R. Kincaid
    • What so many readers—whether "sensitive and intelligent" and comprising "generations" I do not know—have found in Fiction and the Shape of Belief is sheer delight in the rigor and shrewdness of the argument. The most formidable part of Sacks' book is precisely what one would at first necessarily consider the soft spot: the relations of "belief" to fictional form. If one allows the assumptions about a stable and controllable language implicit in the argument and then perhaps substitutes a Boothian term like "implied author" for "Fielding," the demonstrations are irresistible. Sacks sets himself the job of trying to "formulate a theory about a constant and necessary relationship between the ethical beliefs of novelists . . . and novels" (p. 27). He works his way through various possibilities largely by means of eliminating the crude and the obvious. The question "What must Fielding have believed to have created such a character or devised such a situation?" is at first answered by "Almost anything." We can infer little directly about belief from "situation characters"; we must be very careful not to regard the speeches of paragon characters as "isolable topical essays" (p. 141). While the model of a novel presented to us is "constructed," architectural, and therefore undynamic, it is also highly complex. The process of making inferences from the relations between parts and between the parts and the whole, of comparing signals with other signals, is delicate indeed. Sacks' method is to lead us gradually toward more and more complex formulations of belief, blocking easy answers and forcing us to take more and more into account. He is gracious toward but has little interest in historical or biographical evidence that would bear on the question of belief; his subject is relentlessly formal. The central concern—"How can any novelist embody his beliefs in novels?"—is focused on "how," on the manipulation of formal devices, not on the content of that belief. Once inside the system, one can do little but cheer.

      See also: James R. Kincaid, Pouvoir, Félicité, Jane, et Moi (Power, Bliss, Jane, and Me)

      James R. Kincaid is professor of English at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The author of Dickens and the Rhetoric of Laughter, Tennyson's Major Poems: The Comic and Ironic Patterns, and The Novels of Anthony Trollope, he is currently writing a book on narrative structures and the question of coherence. His previous contributions to Critical Inquiry are "Coherent Readers, Incoherent Text" (Summer 1977) and "Pluralistic Monism" (Summer 1978).

    • 221Mary Doyle Springer
    • If I choose two words in the book that I think have been most influential, I would choose "mutually exclusive." Sacks was scarcely the first critic to observe that the kinds of fiction are usually actions, apologues, or satires. But no other theoretician has insisted so cogently as he did that, as principles governing the interaction of parts in a coherent work, these principles are mutually exclusive, "mutually incompatible." The reason Sacks became a great journal editor was that the firmness of his own principles never blinded him to the value of other and very different theoretical questions which might be addressed to a work of fiction. And his tone of voice was never brazen but always that of the eighteenth-century gentleman: Come, let us reason together. Yet he never blinked his adherence to the truths he saw: he stated them directly, and he taught us to strive equally to face the consequences of holistic recognition of forms: "One cannot create an action which is also a satire any more than he can write an active sentence which is also a passive sentence in English. To carry the analogy a step farther, the observation that the types are mutually incompatible is no more an attempt to dictate to writers what they may or may not do than is the observation that active sentences are not passive sentences" (p. 46).


      Mary Doyle Springer, associate professor of English at Saint Mary's College of California, is the author of Forms of the Modern Novella and A Rhetoric of Literary Character: Some Women of Henry James. She is presently at work on a companion theoretical study dealing with the rhetoric of dramatic character in performance.

    • 231Sheldon Sacks
    • For example, in the traditional "who done it" (much of Ellery Queen, some of the early Gardner, and a number of Agatha Christie's best tales), the basic pleasure is in the creation and solution of the riddle itself - somewhat akin to the pleasure of solving a difficult crossword puzzle. In such works the riddle itself must be sufficiently ingenious to surprise us but never so labyrinthine as to destroy the illusion that we may beat the professional to the solution. In no case may necessary clues be withheld for, failing to solve the riddle ourselves, we must at the very least see how we should have been able to solve it with the same information as the professional; given an unreliable narrator, we will feel deceived rather than pleasantly surprised. It is clear that in such instances the value judgments, as opposed to the riddle, should be as unoriginal and conventional as possible. The agents or agent whose initial act caused the riddle might best perform an act of murder for obvious gain or because he wants to replace a current wife with a beautiful mistress. Complexity of thought and judgment must never reach the point where it distracts our attention from the pleasure of the riddle itself; ethical values must merely be minimally consonant with our desire to see the riddle solved in terms that prevent moral indignation. The detective in turn may be given minimal idiosyncrasies that define him as a character, but again since, in this kind of work, the alteration of circumstances of who commits the crime is merely pro forma—usually he is merely caught and his future in prison or the electric chair is unstressed—the traits possessed by the detective are almost solely restricted to those that allow him to solve the riddle that we should have been able to solve ourselves. It is this kind of work that is frequently advertised by plaintive requests "please don't reveal the ending." We rarely read such works a second time. We are completely remote from the pursuit of Lew Archer.

    • 289Quentin Bell
    • As I see it, the historic role of literary Bloomsbury was to act as a sort of check or antibody continually attacking the proponents of the vulgar passions in the body politic whenever these menaced the traditional values of liberal England. In a democracy and perhaps in any modern state there is always a danger that men seeking power will rely upon the feelings rather than the intelligence of the masses. Such appeals to the vulgar passions represent a continual danger; fight on till the Huns are smashed, squeeze Germany until the pips squeak, woman's place is in the home, stamp out dirty unnatural vice, keep the black man in his place—exhortations of this kind can be terribly effective. Against them, or most of them, one may oppose the arguments of the Sermon on the Mount: love your enemies, all men are brothers. This Bloomsbury did not do; it had no use either for the hero or for the saint. In its polemics it appeals to good sense and good feeling and relies upon the belief that ultimately the reasoned argument will prevail.


      Quentin Bell is the author of, among other works, Virginia Woolf: A Biography, Bloomsbury, Ruskin, and On Human Finery. His previous contributions to Critical Inquiry are "Art and the Elite" (Autumn 1974) and exchanges with E. H. Gombrich (Spring 1976) and James Ackerman (Summer 1979).

    • 257Wendy Steiner
    • In 1946, after an eight-year debate with the New Critics, Charles Morris doggedly maintained that "an education which gave due place to semiotic would destroy at its foundations the cleavage and opposition of science and the humanities."1 This insistence on the unity of disciplines—the hallmark of the logical empiricist movement and its brainchild, The International Encyclopedia of Unified Science (of which Morris was associate editor)—effectively silenced semiotics as a force in American literary studies. For the New Critics' point of departure—and one of the few tenets that they held in common—was the belief that art creates a mode of knowledge different in kind from that of practical or scientific discourse and that a criticism modeled on the latter would miss the essence of its subject matter. The quarrel, which continued unresolved during the polemics of the war years, now fuels the controversy between structuralism and post-structuralism. It lies at the very heart of the question of the relevance of semiotics to the humanities.


      ·  1. Charles Morris, Signs, Language, and Behavior, in Writings on the General Theory of Signs (The Hague, 1971), p. 327.


      Wendy Steiner, assistant professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, is the author of Exact Resemblance to Exact Resemblance: The Literary Portraiture of Gertrude Stein. She has written a book on the relations between modern painting and literature and edited the proceedings of the 1978 Ann Arbor Conference on the Semiotics of Art.

    • 271Ross Miller
    • Mies' disciplined retreat from romantic or individual influence created the illusion of an objective architectural order. Miesian architecture seemed fated, and the public was asked to accept it as a fait accompli. In contrast, Tigerman's "Little House" and the designs of Laurence Booth, Thomas Hall Beeby, Stuart Cohen, James Freed, James Nagle, and Ben Weese are not dependent on their ever being produced. They need not exist in actuality but only in process because their self-conscious styles serve a heuristic purpose. The Chicago Seven exhibitors present an architecture that cannot be understood apart from the ideas which underlie it. The audience is directly involved in architectural creation and leaves such an exhibit better prepared to evaluate the man-made environment. The work is revealed to the audience at its earliest moment of creation and serves as a modest but important first step at demystifying architecture and the entire design process.


      Conceptual architecture—distinguished from work rendered for particular clients—reveals the fundamentally dialectical nature of contemporary architecture. The linking of method, the way an architectural idea evolves (sketches and notes), to product (model and working prints) accentuates the art's dynamic quality. Design in this way is seen not merely as a supraorganizational framework capable of defining large areas of urban or exurban space but as a problem-solving tool that can be sensitively applied to meet the specific needs of an individual or community.


      Ross Miller teaches English and American studies at the University of Connecticut. He has written a book on the roots of contemporary architecture in Chicago.

    • 291Hiram W. Woodward, Jr.
    • Material acquisition—buying, inheriting, being given—and nonmaterial—learning a word, assimilating a form—have been likened, and in both, meaningful acquisition cannot take place without a taxonomy, a scheme of categories into which the acquired element can be fitted. Then with these elements—both material and nonmaterial—we create a world or build and project a self, the painter and the interior decorator equally manipulating the elements in a vocabulary. The coarseness of such an outlook seems to bludgeon away long-established fine distinctions. We need not deny, however, that there may be a kind of "indifference" in regard to "the real existence of the thing" which allows us "to play the part of judge in matters of taste," as Kant would have it,1 we need not deny the existence of an "aesthetic attitude: it is just that such indifference and such an attitude probably don't have much to do with our day-to-day experience of artifacts and perhaps needn't. The "aesthetic attitude" was not long ago defined by Jerome Stolnitz as "disinterested and sympathetic attention to and contemplation of any object of awareness whatever, for its own sake alone."2 Stolnitz is at pains to distinguish the aesthetic attitude from "interests" with which it may be preferable to confuse it. "One of them," he writes, "is the interest in owning a work of art for the sake of pride or prestige" (p. 20). And again, "Another nonaesthetic interest is the 'cognitive,' i.e., the interest in gaining knowledge about an object" (p. 20). Both these interests sound rather acquisitive, and let us consider the "aesthetic attitude" as somehow tied in everyday practice to the bundle of "acquiring" activities.


      ·  1. Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Judgment, trans. James Creed Meredith (Oxford, 1952), p. 43.

      ·  2. Jerome Stolnitz, Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art Criticism (Boston, 1960), excerpted in Introductory Readings in Aesthetics, ed. John Hospers (New York, 1969), p. 19; all further citations in text.


      Hiram W. Woodward, Jr. is a lecturer in the department of the history of art at the University of Michigan. He is editor of Eighty Works in the University of Michigan Museum of Art: A Handbook and coeditor (with Luis O. Gomez) of Barabudur: History and Significance of a Buddhist Monument.

    • 305Stanley Cavell
    • Makavejev's recurrence to the ideas of death and birth, in his critical remark about the opening of Persona and in his quoting of Bergman's statement "Each film is my last" (commenting about this that "it is not only a statement about imminent death, but a testimony of an obsessive need to be reborn over and over again"), recalls the recurrence of the ideas of death and birth in Sweet Movie. The sound track opens with a song asking "Is there life after birth?" and the images end with a corpse coming to life; in between, the film is obsessed with images of attempts to be born. The question about life after birth—posing the question whether we may hope for mortality as prior to the question whether we may hope for immortality—has the satisfying sound of one of Feuerbach's or the early Marx's twists that turn Christianity upside down into socialism. . . . It is the great concluding moments of Sweet Music, however, which bear direct comparison with the great opening moments of Persona. But even to describe those concluding sonorities relevantly requires a general idea of the film as a whole.


      Sweet Movie is, at a minimum, the most original exploration known to me of the endless relations between documentary and fictional film, incorporating both; hence in that way an original exploration of the endless relations between reality and fantasy. Its use of documentary footage declares that every movie has a documentary basis—at least in the camera's ineluctable interrogation of the natural endowment of the actors, the beings who submit their being to the work of film. My private title for Makavejev's construction of Sweet Movie (his fifth film) and of (his third and fourth films) Innocence Unprotected and WR: Mysteries of the Organism is "the film of excavation." I mean by this of course my sense of his work's digging to unearth buried layers of the psyche but also my sense that these constructions have the feeling of reconstruction—as of something lost or broken. The search at once traces their integrity (you might say the autonomy) of the individual strata of a history and plots the positions of adjacent strata. I accept as well the implied sense—something the experience of Makavejev's last three films conveys to me—that these constructions are inherently the working out of a group's genius, its interactions, not of one individual's plans; though it is true and definitive of Makavejev's work that a group's interactions, or those of shifting groups, work themselves out into comprehensible forms because a given individual is committed to seeing to it that they may.


      Stanley Cavell, professor of philosophy at Harvard University, is the author of Must We Mean What We Say?, The World Viewed, The Senses of Walden, and The Claim of Reason. Other contributions include ""A Reply to John Hollander"" (Summer 1980) and "North by Northwest" (Summer 1981).

    • 331Howard Nemerov
    • To sum up on forms and rightness. No one wants poetry to be like filling out a form, though plenty of poems look dismally like it. The forms were there to be wrestled with mightily, because they silently and emptily, till one filled them up with the thing said, stood for the recalcitrant outside and other that knows nothing of the human will. The mindless rigidity in principle of the verse patterns suggestively compounded with the sinewy nature of the speaking voice that flowed in continuous energy through the marked-off graph of foot and line and strophe. Together they might be taken to stand for two powers of the mind that ought to work with and against one another to the same effect: the streamy nature of association, said Coleridge, that thinking curbs and rudders. Ezra Pound's commandment to the poet, to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in the sequence of the metronome, is a good warning against monotonous cadences; but taken literally it invites the reply that Beethoven did both. For art is a place where you make choices, sometimes difficult ones that require you decide not between good and bad but between this good and that: very often it is between the beauty of a line and the sense of the whole thing. A proverb says you can't do two things at once; but it is conspicuous that in art you must always be doing two things at once, knowing that that is only the minimum requirement:


      And twofold Always. May God us keep
      From Single vision & Newton's sleep!


      Howard Nemerov, professor of English at Washington University, is the author of, among other works, Figures of Thought: Speculations on the Meaning of Poetry and Other Essays and The Collected Poems, for which he received the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1978.


      See also: "Strict Form in Poetry: Would Jacob Wrestle with a Flabby Angel" by Peter Viereck in Vol. 5, No. 2

    • 343Michael Fischer
    • Like many readers, I sympathize with Charles Altieri's attempt in "Presence and Reference in a Literary Text"1 to correct Derrida's assimilation of poetry to linguistic "freeplay without origin." But Altieri's "middle ground" solution is at best a stopgap measure, delaying the deconstructionist project but not finally answering it. Altieri agrees with Derrida that "language is not primarily a set of pictures ideally mirroring a world" (p. 492). But he resists the conclusion that for Derrida follows from this premise, namely, that poems are consequently self-referential and antimimetic. Instead Altieri adopts a position between these two extremes, seeing in art the representation not of reality but of the "stances" we take toward our world. Poems reveal "the qualities of human actions" (p. 498). In "This is Just to Say," for example, Williams constructs a "simple drama" which brings to light a speaker's "honesty, self-knowledge, and faith in his wife's understanding" (p. 503).


      ·  1. Charles Altieri, "Presence and Reference in a Literary Text: The Example of Williams' 'This is Just to Say,'" Critical Inquiry 5 (Spring 1979): 489-510; all further references to this article will be included in this text.


      Michael Fischer is an assistant professor of English at the University of New Mexico. He has written on nineteenth- and twentieth-century modern critical theory and on the defense of poetry in modern criticism.

    • 346Charles Altieri
    • I have so far argued in terms of general principles. But they are not worth very much unless they help explain how a cultural account of values can preserve a public sphere of judgments that is not subject to Fischer's charges of arbitrariness, relativism, or confusing value and fact. I assume that I will have gone a long way toward answering Fischer if I can provide an adequate response to his question, "where [does] Williams' poem get its presumably public ideas of honesty, self-knowledge, and faith," without relying on an external order of values human reason can know. For, Fischer suggests, without reference to that order of values there is no defensible way to justify combining objective description of details and evaluative predicates like "honest" and "self-aware."


      Charles Altieri, professor of English at the University of Washington, is the author of Enlarging the Temple: New Directions in American Poetry of the 1960s. "Presence and Reference in a Literary Text: The Example of [William Carlos] Williams' 'This is Just to Say'" was contributed to Critical Inquiry in the Spring 1979 issue.

    • 355Mark Roskill
    • John Reichert and Stanley Fish, in their discussion of the finding of different "meanings" in Samson Agonistes,1 do not seem to recognize what is really in dispute between them. Certainly they step in to further confusions along the way.


      It is true that, as Fish reiterates, the "meaning" which is to be cumulatively grasped from a total work of art, such as a long dramatic poem or novel, is open in principle to unlimited divergencies of interpretation on the basis of either external facts that can be brought to bear on the work (and which are themselves open to differences of understanding) or hypotheses that can be counted or presented as potentially relevant. This is so not only because people differ in their understandings in a great variety of ways (which Fish's term "assumptions" by no means adequately covers) but also because the fundamental indeterminacy of language—as distinct from the ambiguity of particular statements2—is capable of being understood as such.


      ·  1. John Reichert, "But That Was in Another Ball Park: A Reply to Stanley Fish," Critical Inquiry 6 (Autumn 1979): 164-72; Stanley E. Fish, "A Reply to John Reichert; or, How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love Interpretation," Critical Inquiry 6 (Autumn 1979): 173-78. Fish's original essay, "Normal Circumstances . . . and Other Special Cases," appeared in the Summer 1978 issue.

      ·  2. See for this distinction my remarks in "On the Recognition and Identification of Objects in Paintings," Critical Inquiry 3 (Summer 1977): 702.


      Mark Roskill, professor of art history at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, is the author of Van Gogh, Gauguin, and the Impressionist Circle, and What is Art History? He has contributed "On the Recognition and Identification of Objects in Paintings" to the Summer 1977 issue of Critical Inquiry.