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Gayle L. Ormiston and Raphael Sassower. Narrative Experiments: The Discursive Authority of Science and Technology. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1989. 155 pp. $35.00 cloth; pb. $14.95.

This ambitious book aims to construct a "metadiscipline" based upon the analysis of textual authority. After a sketchy introduction to contemporary philosophies of technology, the authors analyze how scientific discourse has been founded upon fictions of authority. Bacon, Galileo, and Hobbes replaced Divine authority with belief in the objectivity of observation; Rousseau critiqued this belief and its claims to authority, whereas Frankenstein warned of the outcome of these assumptions. But although each text invokes nature or universal laws, each is actually a fiction that presumes its own authority and replicates its own prejudices. Next examining the "multiplicity of enlightenments," the authors chart the evolution from Kant's optimism about universal values, to Hume's critique of the fictions behind belief systems, to Marx's faith in critical reason as a means of liberation, to Nietzsche's analysis of the tropes underlying that faith. Although insightful, these chapters make too little use of the "literary devices" the authors praise: except for the lively Marx section, their redundant style dulls both their exposition and their analyses.

The final chapters consider modern versions of authority. Although the "modern-assessment" view appeals to notions of practicality rather than truth and objectivity, it still tries to recover a regulative principle outside its own textuality and thus merely "disguises" the "classical" view. In fact, the authors argue, all accounts of authority are really "meta-narratives": fictions about fictions, none of which can be privileged over any other. Every narrative is merely an interpretation of others that fails to recognize itself as a fiction; there is no "way out of the labyrinth of fictions." Even pluralistic and relativistic models of authority only conceal the classical model, because each assumes a sovereign position outside the range of its own critique.

But the authors experience the same difficulty. Although claiming that their preference for dissemination is "no more authoritative" than any other, nonetheless they presume to deconstruct other models, offering the dissemination of authority as a quasi-authoritative truth. Thus, although they criticize pluralism for merely camouflaging unity, their principle of dissemination only offers disunity—the incessant generation of fictions—as a unifying principle. This is revealed in their [End Page 674] description of dissemination as a "labyrinth" or "counterfeit." A labyrinth is not an "abyss" but a cleverly disguised order ; its structure proclaims the existence of an authority who knows the way out. The authors therefore assume such authority by using the term. Similarly, a "counterfeit" presupposes something that is not a counterfeit, that which it "counters." To assert that all authority is counterfeit is as meaningless as to assert that no authority is, and merely offers a negative absolutism in place of a positive one. The principle of dissemination thus erects yet another fictional authority outside its own critique: dissemination is not disseminated. An incessant generation of fictions produces neither counterfeits nor labyrinths but merely its own process; but even to assert so necessitates a second-level ordering that subsumes dissemination. Thus, although Narrative Experiments fascinatingly deconstructs discursive authority, it finally cannot disseminate its own.

Mark Osteen
Loyola College in Maryland


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