Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Winter 1980

Volume 7 Issue 2
    • 237E.H. Gombrich
    • I have stressed here and elsewhere that perspective cannot and need not claim to represent the world "as we see it." The perceptual constancies which make us underrate the degree of objective diminutions with distance, it turns out, constitute only one of the factors refuting this claim. The selectivity of vision can now be seen to be another. There are many ways of "seeing the world," but obviously the claim would have to relate to the "snapshot vision" of the stationary single eye. To ask, as it has so often been asked, whether this eye sees the world in the form of a hollow sphere or of a projection plane makes little sense, for it sees neither. The one point in focus can hardly be said to be either curved or flat, and the remainder of the field of vision is too indistinct to permit a decision. True, we can shift the point of focus at will, but in doing so we lose the previous perception, and all that remains is its memory. Can we, and do we, compare the exact extension of these changing percepts in scanning a row of columns extended at right angles from the central line of vision—to mention the most recalcitrant of the posers of perspectival theory?1 I very much doubt it. The question refers to the convenient choice of projection planes, not to the experience of vision.

      ·  1. I now prefer this formulation to my somewhat laboured discussion in Art and Illusion, chap. 8, sec. 4.

      See also: E. H. Gombrich, Representation and Misrepresentation

      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 many influential works include The Story of Art, Art and Illusion, Meditations on a Hobby Horse, The Sense of Order, and Ideals and Idols. An early version of "Standards of Truth" was presented at Swarthmore College in October 1976 at a symposium to mark the retirement of Professor Hans Wallach. His contributions to Critical Inquiry include "The Museum: Past, Present, and Future" (Spring 1977), "Notes and Exchanges" (Summer 1979), and, with Quentin Bell, "Canons and Values in the Visual Arts: A Correspondence" (Spring 1976).

    • 275Herbert F. Tucker, Jr.
    • The lyric speaker begins by turning his or her will into words, but begins to be a Browningesque speaker when this conversion leads to a turning of the will against words. This inversion, or perversion, of the will against its own expression requires a reader to entertain a complex notion of the relationship between intention and language—or, more accurately, to hold in suspension two competing versions of that relationship. A reader learns not only to conceive interpretation in the simple lyric sense, as a prevailing assertion of the will, but also to conceive any given assertion of the will, any intention given over to articulation in language, as an interpretation and therefore a potential falsification inviting further refinement. The playful competition Browning urges between these two conceptions of intentionality frees meaning to wander somewhere beyond the ken of each lyric speaker, somewhere in the future of lyric utterance. Meaning is to the dramatic lyric what action is to the drama proper; and much as the curious "action in character" of Browning's dramas defers dramatic action and makes room for play, so Browning defers meaning in the lyrics by enlisting the patterning forces of the self-interfering will.1

      · 1. Browning remarked in the preface to Strafford that his play turned on "Action in the Character rather than Character in Action" (Complete Works, 2:9).

      See also: Herbert F. Tucker, Unsettled Scores: Meter and Play in Two Music Poems by Browning

      Herbert F. Tucker, Jr., an assistant professor of English at Northwestern University, has published articles on Hopkins and Browning. An expanded version of the present essay appears in his Browning's Beginnings: The Art of Disclosure.

    • 297Gerald L. Bruns
    • [Herbert F.] Tucker has shown us in a very practical way that the concept of meaning is the problem of problems, not only in hermeneutics but in literary theory and, indeed, literary study generally. It may well be that in literary study there can be no talk of meaning that is not ambiguous, that does not require us to speak in figures or by means of metaphorical improvisations. It would not necessarily follow that our talk of meaning is merely provisional or without philosophical authority since we know now that considerable authority attaches to ordinary language, whence we obtain our use of the word "meaning" as well as the figurations that we use to talk our way around it. To be sure, the discipline of literary study is now rapidly filling with grave masters who take our figures to mean that meaning is literally unspeakable—only so many transferences and substitutions within a system of differences alarmingly vast (a system whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is an illusion). This is itself a terrific idea, or a terrific figure, although it is used mainly to expose the thoughtless way we talk about meaning as well as our offhand assumptions about the conditions that make understanding possible. Our problem in literary study is not that meaning is unspeakable—even if it were it would not be a problem—but that we rarely reflect on the subject of meaning in a disciplined way. In our time, meaning as a topic of study is the preserve of logicians. It is almost exclusively a theme of analytical philosophy, and even those not bound by this philosophy address themselves to the analytical tradition when they speak of meaning.1 It is time that we entered into this discourse on meaning; a paper as fine as Tucker's should serve as a summons.

      · 1. Among numerous cases, see John R. Searle, "Metaphor" and "Literal Meaning," Expression and Meaning (Cambridge, 1979), pp. 76-136, and "Intentionality and the Use of Language," in Meaning and Use, ed. Avishai Margalit (Dordrecht and Boston, 1979), pp. 181-97.

      See also: Gerald L. Bruns, Loose Talk about Religion from William James

      Gerald l. Bruns, professor of English at the University of Iowa, is the author of Modern Poetry and the Idea of Language and Inventions: Writing, Textuality, and Interpretation in Literary History.

    • 311Joseph Kerman
    • It may be objected that musical analysts claim to be working with objective methodologies which leave no place for aesthetic criteria, for the consideration of value. If that were the case, the reluctance of so many writers to subsume analysis under criticism might be understandable. But are these claims true? Are they, indeed, even seriously entered?

      Certainly the original masters of analysis left no doubt that for them analysis was an essential adjunct to a fully articulated aesthetic value system. Heinrich Schenker always insisted on the superiority of the towering products of the German musical genius. Sir Donald Tovey pontificated about "the main stream of music" and on occasion developed this metaphor in considerable detail. It is only in more recent times that analysts have avoided value judgments and adapted their work to a format of strictly corrigible propositions, mathematical equations, set-theory formulations, and the like—all this, apparently, in an effort to achieve the objective status and hence the authority of scientific inquiry. Articles on music composed after 1950, in particular, appear sometimes to mimic scientific papers in the way that South American bugs and flies will mimic the dreaded carpenter wasp. In a somewhat different adaptation, the distinguished analyst Allen Forte wrote an entire small book, The Compositional Matrix, from which all affective or valuational terms (such as "nice" or "good") are meticulously excluded. The same tendency is evident in much recent periodical literature.

      See also: Leonard B. Meyer, Grammatical Simplicity and Relational Richness: The Trio of Mozart's G Minor Symphony

      Joseph Kerman, professor of music at the University of California at Berkeley, has been the editor of Nineteenth-Century Music. His books include Opera as Drama, The Elizabethan Madrigal, The Beethoven Quartets, Listen (with Vivian Kerman), and The Masses and Motets of William Byrd.

    • 333Bert O. States
    • If we are looking for an Ur-explanation for the persistence of the Ur-myth, or any other myth, in our literature, could we not more directly find it in the structure of a mind which does not have to remember in order to imitate? The occasion of both myth and literature is the social life of the species which, in Starobinski's sense, is a history of continual eviction; but as regards the apparatus of thought by which this social life is reflected in art it is more a history of assimilation and repetition. "The work of the brain," to cite a recent article in Scientific American, "is to create a model of a possible world rather than to record and transmit to the mind a world that is metaphysically true…Different worlds are presumably constructed by similar species."1 And, presumably, similar worlds are constructed by similar species. Weisinger hints briefly at something like this in his essay "The Mythic Origins of the Creative Process," but one has the clear impression, as his title suggests, that he would like to have the [myth/ritual] cart before the creative horse.2 However much this may satisfy our longing to crown our literature, if not creativity itself, with a mythic genealogy, it seems a wistful hypothesis. One might just as well look upon the remains of early man's shelters, marvel that they too had roofs, just like ours, and conclude that therefore our roofs have their origin in theirs.

      ·  1. Harry J. Jerison, "Paleoneurology and the Evolution of Mind," Scientific American, January 1976, p. 99.

      ·  2. Herbert Weisinger, The Agony and the Triumph: Papers on the Use and Abuse of Myth (East Lansing, Mich., 1964), p. 250.

      See also: Marjorie Garber, Ovid, Now and Then

      Bert O. States, professor of dramatic arts at the University of California at Santa Barbara, is the author of Irony and Drama: A Poetics and The Shape of Paradox: An Essay on "Waiting for Godot."

    • 345Norman N. Holland
    • I propose this: Ellen [a graduate student] laughs because she is re-creating her identity. This theory differs from the others because "identity" is not simply a category that is filled or not, like "incongruity" or "superiority" which become variables in an "if this, then that" explanation. "If there is a sudden incongruity, people will laugh." Rather, identity is a further question, a way of asking, Can I understand Ellen's actions as a theme and variations? Moreover, any such interpretation is itself a part of the interpreter's actions, hence a function of his - in this case, my - identity. The principle is general, but putting it into practice in each instance is unique. Unlike an "if this, then that" which leads to closure, an explanation through identity leads to a continuing dialogue. One asks questions of an individual situation, like Ellen's laughing at [B.] Kliban's cartoons. One gets answers that lead to a fuller understanding of that situation. The answers can be generalized into questions, leading to more and closer questioning and more answers that lead to more questions, all within the general principle of identity re-creation as embodied in the unique situation.

      See also: Norman N. Holland, Literary Interpretation and Three Phases of Psychoanalysis

      Norman N. Holland is the James H. McNulty Professor of English at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He has written a book on the theory of laughter presented in the present essay. His previous contributions to Critical Inquiry are "Literary Interpretation and Three Phases of Psychoanalysis" (Winter 1976) and "Human Identity" (Spring 1978).

    • 373Walter Benn Michaels
    • Instead of seeing satisfaction as the necessary and appropriate goal of desire, Dreiser seems to see it only as an inevitable but potentially fatal by-product. Desire, for him, is most powerful when it outstrips its object; indeed, it is the very fact of this excessiveness that fuels Sister Carrie's economy—which is one reason why Carrie is right to think of money ("something everybody else has and I must get") as "power itself." The economy runs on desire, which is to say, money, or the impossibility of ever having enough money. Nothing is more characteristic of Carrie than her ability to "indulge" in what Dreiser calls "the most high-flown speculations,"1 rocking in her chair and spending in "her fancy" money she hasn't yet earned. Fancy or imagination is the very agent of excessive desire for Carrie, enabling her to get "beyond, in her desires, twice the purchasing power of her bills" (p. 48). When Drouet suggests to her that she has dramatic ability, "imagination," as usual, "exaggerated the possibilities for her. It was as if he had put fifty cents in her hand and she had exercised the thoughts of a thousand dollars" (p. 118).

      · 1. Thomas Dreiser, Sister Carrie, ed. Donald Pizer (New York, 1970), p. 22. All subsequent references to this work will be cited parenthetically in the text.

      See also: Walter Benn Michaels, Is There a Politics of Interpretation?

      Walter Benn Michaels is an assistant professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of articles on American literature and literary theory and a book entitled American Epistemologies: Literary Theory and Pragmatism.

    • 391Sandra M. Gilbert
    • There is a striking difference, however, between the ways female and male modernists define and describe literal or figurative costumes. Balancing self against mask, true garment against false costume, Yeats articulates a perception of himself and his place in society that most other male modernists share, even those who experiment more radically with costume as metaphor. But female modernists like Woolf, together with their post-modernist heirs, imagine costumes of the mind with much greater irony and ambiguity, in part because women's clothing is more closely connected with the pressures and oppressions of gender and in part because women have far more to gain from the identification of costume with self or gender. Because clothing powerfully defines sex roles, both overt and covert fantasies of transvestism are often associated with the intensified clothes consciousness expressed by these writers. But although such imagery is crucially important in works by Joyce, Lawrence, and Eliot on the one hand, and in works by Barnes, Woolf, and H. D. on the other, it functions very differently for male modernists from the way it operates for female modernists.

      See also: Sandra M. Gilbert, Life's Empty Pack: Notes toward a Literary Daughteronomy

      Sandra M. Gilbert, professor of English at the University of California at Davis, is the author of Acts of Attention: The Poems of D.H. Lawrence and In the Fourth World; the coauthor, with Susan Gubar, of The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, and its sequel, No Man's Land: The Woman Writer and the Twentieth-Century Literary Imagination.

    • 419Joyce Carol Oates
    • Beyond the defiance of the young iconoclast—Wilde himself, of course—and the rather perfunctory curve of Dorian Gray to that gothic final sight (beautiful Dorian dead with a knife in his heart, "withered, wrinkled, and loathsome of visage"), there is another, possibly less strident, but more central theme. That one is damned for selling one's soul to the devil (for whatever prize—"eternal youth" is a trivial enough one) is a commonplace in legends; what arrests our attention more, perhaps, is Wilde's claim or boast or worry or warning that one might indeed be poisoned by a book . . . and that the artist, even the presumably "good" Basil Hallward, is the diabolical agent. Wilde's novel must be seen as a highly serious meditation upon the moral role of the artist—an interior challenge, in fact, to the insouciance of the famous pronouncements that would assure us that there is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book ("Books are well written, or badly written," Wilde claims in his preface. "That is all.") or that all art is "quite useless." Wilde's genius was disfigured by his talent: he always sounds much more flippant, far more superficial, than he really is. So one always say about Dorian Gray, with an air of surprise, that the novel is exceptionally good after all—and anyone who has read it recently replies, with the same air of faint incredulity, yes, it is exceptionally good—in fact, one of the strongest and most haunting of English novels. Yet its reputation remains questionable. Gerald Weales virtually dismisses it as "terribly fin de siècle " in a rather flippant introduction to the novel, and it would be difficult to find a critic who would choose to discuss it in terms other than the familiar ones of decadence, art for art's sake, art as "the telling of beautiful untrue things."


      Joyce Carol Oates has written, among others, Bellefleur, Childhood, a collection of short stories, Nightside, and Son of the Morning. Her contributions to Critical Inquiry, include "Jocoserious Joyce" (Summer 1976) and "Lawrence's Gotterdammerung" (Spring 1978).

    • 429Joel Snyder and Ted Cohen
    • Surely [John R.] Searle must rely on a stable, formal conception of the point of view. He sets Las Meninas on a par with the antimony of the liar and the paradoxes of set theory. (It is apparently because of what he takes to be its rather strict analogy with these conundrums that Searle goes on to say that Las Meninas is involved with self-reference.) But nothing is an antimony or a paradox just because it seems so or just because it is confusing or difficult, even if it seems so to everyone. To deserve such a description, a thing must be, so to speak, intrinsically intractable, not merely resistant when looked at in a particular way. If a man says "I do not believe I am alive," that would be odd, and it would be hard to understand just what he means, and it may even be hard or impossible to believe that he is telling the truth; but there is no antimony. If a man says "I am lying," then we have a primitive version of the antimony of the liar. Given the meaning of this utterance—and nothing else—there is no way to get a grip on it. If what the man says is true, then it's false; if what he says is false, then it's true.


      Joel Snyder, a practicing photographer, is associate professor of humanities and of art and design at the University of Chicago. His contributions to Critical Inquiry include "Photography, Vision, and Representation," written with Neil Walsh Allen (Autumn 1975), and "Picturing Vision" (Spring 1980). Ted Cohen, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago, has written on language, aesthetics, and taste. His previous contribution to Critical Inquiry, "Metaphor and the Cultivation of Intimacy," appeared in the Autumn 1978 issue.