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Reviewed by:
  • Textuality and Subjectivity: Essays on Language and Being
  • Steven G. Kellman
Eitel Timm, Kenneth Mendoza, and Dale Gowen, eds. Textuality and Subjectivity: Essays on Language and Being. Columbia, SC: Camden House, 1991. 106 pp. No price given.

"Today," complains Kenneth Mendoza, who teaches at California State University, San Marcos, "departments of composition, literature, art, philosophy, and history produce a body of literature that only the similarly lonely would or can read." Only the lonely could savor the turgid syntax, [End Page 444] witless jargon, and vapid pronouncements of current academic discourse. Mendoza's proclaimed disdain for taural-fecal rhetoric sets a demanding standard for clarity and cogency that Textuality and Subjectivity, which he co-edited, does not entirely honor. The volume is a miscellany of scholarly meetings, a compilation of papers delivered at conferences of the International Rhetoric Council. When and where each piece was first presented is not identified, and—in homage or bondage to poststructualist erasure of the author—contributors remain merely names with institutional affiliations. Though Volume 9 in a series called Studies in English and American Literature, Linguistics, and Culture, Textuality and Subjectivity devotes more attention to Paul Celan than to any figure in English and American literature. The book is offered as a series of attempts to confront issues of self, of the relationships between language and being. The "persistent questions of subjectivity" it promises to pose persist beyond the final page. They are airy enough to accommodate the breadth of interests and approaches in the essays Timm, Mendoza, and Gowen have assembled.

Karin Coddon studies "The Face of Robert Smith," finding the anti-representationalist likeness projected by the leader of the English band The Cure "one of the most parodic and subversively artificial images in the current popular media." Celan, hardly either a creature or contestant of current popular media, is the subject of separate essays by Christiane Staninger and Gerhard Richter. "Celan's poetology may be read as a postmodern subjectivist model of cognitive mapping," buzzes Richter, while Staninger offers a more forceful reading of the German poet as a creator who "prompts creation." Arguing that the emotions in lyric poetry are not private and subjective, Eitel Timm offers a reading of Hölderlin. John O'Brien records the differing responses to a passage from The Unbearable Lightness of Being by readers ignorant of its author and by those who were told he is an émigré Czech; O'Brien's unexceptionable conclusion is that Kundera is justified in complaining that biographical labels cause his playful texts to be construed as political manifestoes. Gowen examines how Walker Percy, while rejecting science and language as specious substitutes, affirmed the primacy of a transcendental signified: the prestructuralist, and preternatural, God.

Derrida and Heidegger are frequently invoked throughout the volume, but it is another deity of contemporary theory, Fredric Jameson, who is appealed to even more often. By cutting and pasting separate statements by each, David Blakesley constructs a dialogue between Jameson and Kenneth Burke, a debate that Jameson cannot lose so long as the slippery self remains decentered. A central assumption of most of the contributors to Textuality and Subjectivity is that truth is flux. In Victor Udwin's cybernetic [End Page 445] paradigm of "autopoesis," cognition is a homeostatic operation that is forever fluid. It is an argument against dryness, against the arid abstractions that Mendoza calls "scholastibabble." [End Page 446]

Steven G. Kellman
The University of Texas at San Antonio


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