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406Philosophy and Literature Prospecting: From Reader Response to Literary Anthropology , by Wolfgang Iser; ix & 315 pp. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989, $29.95. The text on thejacket of this book makes two erroneous claims. It states first that many of the essays collected in diis volume are avaUable in English for the first time, and second, that these pieces chart Iser's intellectual development over the past decade. ActuaUy aU die essays included here have appeared previously in English and several were first published nearly twenty years ago. Despite this false advertising, admirers of Iser's work wül welcome the appearance of Prospecting since it collects seminal theoretical pieces as well as several interpretive essays, some of which have not enjoyed wide circulation. Above aU it shows how Iser's earlier preoccupation with a phenomenologically based reader-response criticism has developed into a concern for literary anthropology . Indeed, the andiropological perspective that Iser elaborates in his most recent theory is clearly prefigured in his early works, although this was hardly evident when they first appeared. This volume, then, demonstrates both the coherence ofIser's position and the perseverance with which he has pursued his theoretical project. The book is divided into three sections. The first, "Reader Response in Perspective," collects two important essays and the exchange between Norman Holland and Wayne Booth from Diacritics. The initial essay, "Indeterminacy and the Reader's Response in Prose Fiction," was a founding document of the Constance School; only Hans RobertJauss's "Literary History as a Provocation to Literary Scholarship" was more important for German critical circles in the early seventies. Briefly stated, this essay postulates that readers generate meaning during the reading process when diey complete the indeterminacies of the literary text. The second part ofthe volume, entitled "Paradigms," contains five interpretations. An analysis of Arcadia in Spenser's Shepheardes Calender and a discussion of doubling in Shakespeare's Aj You Like It are followed by three interpretations of key modernist texts: Joyce's Ulysses, negativity in Beckett's prose, and Beckett's theater. AU of these essays apply in varying degrees techniques of reader response, although some, notably the piece on Shakespeare, introduce a poststructuralist vocabulary that clashes sUghdy with Iser's phenomenological proclivities. The final section, "Avenues for Exploration," consists of five essays representing Iser's most recent dieoretical position. His concern clearly shifts in these pieces to die topics of play, the imaginary, representation, and andiropology. Fictionality is seen as a doubling process in which elements ofreality and a non-present imaginary world are played offagainst one anodier. In this scheme representation is not a mimetic activity, but a performative act occurring in the reader's mind, a type of playful movement diat produces an Reviews407 image rather dian reproducing one. Literature is important for us as human beings, according to Iser, precisely because it aUows us to imagine diat which would odierwise remain inaccessible or unavaUable. Through fiction and the imaginary we perceive otherness. Several problems in Iser's earlier work remain unaddressed here. For example , Iser apparently retains die view diat there has been an increase in indeterminacy from die eighteentii century to die present (p. 15) whUe at die same time maintaining diat indeterminacy in any text is potentiaUy infinite (p. 9). He also continues to conceive of die interaction between text and reader in terms of visual images; he writes, for example, about die reader's "task of visualizing the many possible shapes of the identifiable world" (p. 250). More troublesome, however, are the ahistorical assumptions that found and accompany Iser's main arguments. Too often we read about what literature or fiction is, or what it does; about "our own experience" (p. 7) or "the required activity of the recipient" (p. 244). Bodi the phenomenological model from which Iser proceeds and die antiiropological goal to which he aspires are ultimately conceived as norms or ideals outside of the real history of literature and reader response. His thought requires, in short, a good dose ofhistorical hermeneutics and cultural anthropology, as well as a better grounding in institutional history. University of California, BerkeleyRobert C. Holub Beyond Feminist Aesthetics: Feminist Literature and Social Change, by Rita Felski...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 406-407
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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