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Reviewed by:
Frank Gloversmith, ed. The Theory of Reading. Brighton: Harvester, 1984. 263 pp. $18.95. Distributed in America by Barnes.
J. M. Bernstein. The Philosophy of the Novel: Lukács, Marxism and the Dialectics of Form. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1984. 319 pp. $35.00 cloth; pb. $14.95.

The Theory of Reading collects essays by seven contemporary British critics. In general, the essays have one or another of three primary focuses: the reception study, the debunking essay, or the promotional reading of a given theory. The two reception studies investigate, respectively, the critical fates suffered by the Angry Young Man fiction of the Fifties and by Lawrence's The Rainbow and [End Page 454] Women In Love. In the former piece, Stuart Laing points out, with some acuity, how literary and social politics operate as invisible determinants in the canonizing process. In his essay Alastair Fowler juxtaposes two divergent readings of Lawrence and the novels cited: the view of Murry and Wyndam Lewis of the author as traitorous and antinational and Leavis' position that sees Lawrence as a misunderstood patriot. As a corrective to these "misreadings," Fowler resuscitates genetic criticism and influence.

Of the three lengthy "debunking" essays, two assail deconstruction while the other—Gloversmith's—takes up the shortcomings of the autonomy theory of Ortega, Fry, and Virginia Woolf. Given the current topicality of deconstruction, I shall confine my remarks to the essays by David Morse and Valentine Cunningham. After ploughing through a review of twentieth-century Anglo-American criticism, Morse moves to confirm his thesis that Derrida has provided a philosophical foundation for New Criticism. Although perhaps guilty of the "totalizing generalizations" of which Morse charges him, Derrida's radical skepticism contrasts sharply with the assured professionalism and static epistemology that characterize New Critical interpretation. Morse's attack on Derridean skepticism reveals the former's undifferentiated view of language. Here, phonocentrism, with its intentionalist underpinning, ignores the fact that written discourse, unlike speech, does not have an absolutely circumscribed field of reception.

Cunningham, in the collection's best essay, points out that deconstruction is hardly a contingent hermeneutic as it insistently claims. Deconstructors valorize absence over presence (when, in fact, both are textually invested); they invariably deconstruct the traditional canon; and they view language as supraideological. Cunningham puts forward a dualistic view of logocentrism. He asserts that logocentrism is both presence and absence, both word qua signified and word qua signifier. Notwithstanding the ingenuity and incisiveness of his argument, Cunningham implies that absence and presence are purely functions of the text itself. In this, he fashions a text-centered hermeneutic that ignores the historicity of the reader.

Finally, essays by Homi Bhabha and Allon White promote the hermeneutic efficacy of, respectively, Althusserian Marxism and Bakhtinian sociolinguistics. White's essay is noteworthy, in particular, for it provides an excellent introduction to Bakhtinian dialogics as well as an articulate critique of deconstruction's "carnevalization of monoglossia," that is, its reduction of language to a universal play of differance. In brief summary, though several essays in The Theory of Reading take deconstruction to task on a number of issues, one cannot avoid the conclusion that deconstruction's radical reevaluation of Western thinking has served both to enliven and fructify current theoretical discussions.

J. M. Bernstein's The Philosophy of the Novel is the first book length study of Lukács' The Theory of the Novel (hereafter TN). This "argumentative defense" adopts "the method of philosophical reconstruction," a tack involving the distillation of the text's "truth" and, thereafter, a detailed analysis of the text in view of this truth. The "truth" here is that TN is based on Marxist premises. Bernstein holds, then, that Lukács' 1918 "conversion" to Marxism is less radical, less precipitous than many—he mentions Arato and Breines, Löwy, and Markus—have claimed. (Actually, for his part, in the essay appearing in Lukács [End Page 455] Reappraised [1983], Markus cautions against one-sided readings, that is, the continuity and discontinuity theses, of Lukács' early intellectual development.)

What literary theorists will perhaps initially find onerous and labored in this study may, in fact, prove to be its achievement. I...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-658X
Print ISSN
0026-7724
Pages
pp. 454-456
Launched on MUSE
2009-01-01
Open Access
No
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