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Shorter Reviews363 for further discussion. He has done so with clarity, discrimination, and a sense of the complexity of the issues he writes about. On balance, Marxism and Literary Criticism is an instance of a shorter book being better than many longer ones on the same subject. Ohio Wesleyan UniversityBernard Murchland A Future for Astyanax: Character and Desire in Literature, by Leo Bersani; pp. xii & 338. Boston & Toronto: Litde, Brown and Company, 1976, $15.00. We have become accustomed—and certainly most critics do little to upset this expectation—to think literary criticism as of only marginal relevance to philosophy. One of the many merits of Bersani's fine new book is his refutation of such expectations. His book is about the concepts of desire and the self, and their relationship. Here are two views of the self: (A) the sublimated, "tamed" desires, of the unified "adult" self; (B) the omnipotent play of limitless fantasy, without the presence of a stable self. Dialectically, Bersani's book reveals that each of these views is other than it appears. The adult self (A) requires a conflict with other adults: "one needs others to know what is desirable, at the same time that one needs to eliminate others in order to possess the objects which they have designated . . ." (p. 60). The "deconstructed" self (B) fails to recognize the existence of other selves, and hence is really not a self at all. "Desires provide a . . . negative of one's individuality: they implicitly define the self by explicitly defining what it lacks" (p. 181). To have no bounds to one's desires is thus to lack definition as a self. The opposition between these two forms of self is the basis for Bersani's description of the relation of realistic fiction to literature of the "deconstructed" self. Many classic novelists show, in different ways, the conflict between unity of self and desire; in so doing they implicidy undermine the traditional novel. Thus, either desire cannot "be spoken" (p. 126) in Stendhal; or, "desire breaks the self up into disconnected roles" (p. 84) with Proust; or, in James, desire is both allowed and tamed by making truth subjective; or, for Lawrence, characters are replaced with "the life and death energies which break through the appearances of character" (p. 166). Literatures of the "deconstructed" self use equally complex and varied devices. Lautréamont imagines a character who can "glide from one form to another" (p. 197); Rimbaud presents scenes that "don't 'add up' to a personality" (p. 255); Artaud uses theatrical scenes which abolish the self/world distinction; Genet and others offer masturbatory fantasies, the "re-creation of the world in the image of one's desires" (p. 289). Far from being merely regressive, art thus can reveal possibilities for the loss of self that otherwise would remain undreamt of. In the dream, "from the host of our unconscious desires, a 'happy few' are selected . . ." (p. 283). 364Philosophy and Literature Literature can imagine the possibility of abolishing even such a process of selection. Such literature shows, implicidy, a recognition of the fundamental deceptions about the self and desire upon which the classical novel was based. Such a recognition is "the necessary point of departure" (p. 313) for a view of the self more truthful than that offered by realistic fiction. The value of literature, and criticism, is to teach us about desire and its relation to a fragmented or unified self. "Literature ... is not merely instructive about desire" (p. 10); literature itself, as one form of fantasy, is a manifestation of desire. Paradoxically, the realistic novel offers a less fully human view of desire than the literature of the "deconstructed" self. Bersani, using a psychoanalytic framework, shows why psychoanalysis would be mistaken to think of this literature of the "deconstructed" self as merely regressive. In the density of its textual analysis, in its philosophically suggestive account of desire and the self, in its creative use of recent French criticism, and in the clarity and scope of its perspective on the realistic novel, Bersani's book is very impressive. A Future for Astyanax deserves to be read widely and studied with care. Carnegie-Mellon UniversityDavid Carrier Phenomenology, Structuralism...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 363-364
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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