In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

ELT 37:4 1994 Camochan is a sensitive and moderate analyst, whose overview, insofar as it is discernible, is reasonable enough. Yet I must finally acknowledge that my mind has been so poisoned by new historicist polemical fabrications of history that I find myself distrusting historical genealogies altogether. It's not that I think some other analysis would be the real authentic thing, but that I feel it is now increasingly difficult to come up with persuasive histories of ideas, movements or anything. The distinction between fact and fiction is so thoroughly held in doubt, if not in contempt, while at the same time there are so many debunking voices nonetheless professing to tell us how things really are (most of them with a killer of a political agenda) that the whole notion of truth is up for grabs. We may very well be at a point where writing that is avowedly creative (but not necessarily "fiction") can make more credible claims of authenticity than many so-called works of scholarship or sociological investigation. Perhaps in the present instance, a more clear and commanding thesis more forcefully executed might have swept the reader along, at least for the short term if not for the long. But the absence of such clarity and force has the effect of emphasizing the genealogizing method Camochan employs, which for me calls the whole enterprise into question. For this personal crisis of belief, I apologize to Professor Camochan, in the hope that I have not done his book an injustice. Harold Fromm University of Illinois at Chicago Thematic Criticism Werner Sollors, ed. The Return of Thematic Criticism. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993. xv + 321 pp. $40.00 RUMORS OF THE DEATH of thematic criticism have been greatly exaggerated, according to Werner Sollors, the editor of The Return of Thematic Criticism. And of course he is right: as he points out in his introduction to the sixteen essays and seven terse statements (or "short takes") collected here, many of the approaches that characterize the contemporary critical scene often stress thematic issues, including women's studies, ethnic studies, new historicist, cultural and multicultural studies, and other kinds of politically engaged criticism, as well as interdisciplinary work that includes literature as one of its objects of study. (One might add much psychoanalytic criticism to the list, and even the deconstructive criticism of the late 1970s and early 80s: for reading or interpretation often achieved the status of themes in the work 552 BOOK REVIEWS of Barbara Johnson, Shoshana Felman, and others.) Sollors's claim, which returns in some of the essays he has gathered (indeed, it is one of this book's themes) is that thematic approaches are nevertheless frequently maligned. "Thematic' has become a rather pejorative term in literary studies, typically coupled with the adverb 'merely,'" he observes; thus many contemporary critics engage in "undeclared 'thematic ' practice" and even, at times, "openly disclaim .. . affinities with '¿hematology.'" Thematic criticism, Sollors argues, is a widespread approach "that dares not speak its name." He seeks through this volume not only to bring thematic criticism out of the closet, but also to encourage a sophisticated theorizing of thematics. Such theorizing has been proceeding apace in European contexts, notably in special issues of Communications, Poétique, and Strumenti critici appearing in the late 1980s and at a 1984 conference at the Vrije Universiteit Brüssel. Many of the contributors to this volume, such as Claude Bremond, Thomas Pavel, Michel Vanhelleputte, Holger Klein, and Theodor Wolpers, have been instrumental in this work. Others such as Yuri K. Schcheglov and (I assume) Marie-Laure Ryan here address theme and thematics in terms of other ongoing theoretical projects. Perhaps these facts explain why reading this book felt at times like listening to a conversation, frequently very technical and detailed, that one had encountered in medias res: the implied occasion for the discourse at hand, and the reasons for the participants' sometimes dogged pursuit of the precise definitions and elusive distinctions they propose, were not always sufficiently clear. Schcheglovs "AGenerative Approach to Thematics: Poetics of Expressiveness and Modern Criticism," for example, extends his earlier work with Alexander Zholkovsky into a study of theme. Unfortunately, readers unfamiliar...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 552-555
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.