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1 30Philosophy and Literature Glyph is a welcome addition to today's scholarly scene, for it stresses the most significant aspects of the recent deconstructive enterprise of the human sciences. [Editor's note: As we go to press, the second issue of Glyph has been received. It contains articles by Eugenio Donato, Jean-Luc Nancy, Jeffrey Mehlman, Michael Ryan, Alicia Borinsky, John Carlos Rowe, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Timothy C. Murray, and Jacques Derrida.] Kansas State UniversityBetty R. McGraw Reflexivity in "Tristram Shandy": An Essay in Phenomenological Criticism, by James E. Swearingen; pp. xiii & 271. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1977, $15.00. That sophisticated European philosophical thought has at last penetrated American literary criticism is apparent in the increasing number of books advancing the cause of phenomenological hermeneutics. Most of these books have been general or theoretical (e.g., those by Murray, Gadamer, and Magliola), but in Reflexivity in "Tristram Shandy" we have a first-rate, knowledgeable application of phenomenological, and especially Heideggerian, principles. Swearingen's first chapter includes an excellent brief for phenomenological criticism (the best succinct account I know of). Here Swearingen, who is well versed in philosophy, distinguishes phenomenological from realist and idealist criticism, making the now-familiar point that both of the latter "ignore the fact that the event of understanding is anterior to [the] epistemological model of a subject confronting an alien object." Such a model, an abstraction from concrete experience, "for the purpose of dealing with a world of objects . . . is specifically unsuited to literary criticism" (p. 16). Swearingen does not simply apply phenomenological theory; he argues—convincingly —that Sterne's enigmatic, often-bawdy novel is "an incipient phenomenology the ultimate aim of which is an ontological analysis of the meaning of Tristram's being" (p. 44). Thus, "Whereas in Richardson we are invited to turn the analytical gaze upon the psychical states of characters, in Sterne we observe an activity of descriptive exhumation of layer after layer of the central consciousness" (p. 55). Swearingen offers many such valuable distinctions and discriminates carefully between Tristram's incipient phenomenology and various philosophical positions, including empiricism and associationism, with which the book is frequently aligned. With a grudging nod to historicists, and reference to Descartes, Locke, and Hume, Swearingen shows precedent in the 1760s for this process of reflexivity. In developing his thesis, Swearingen considers in a new light themes familiar in Sterne scholarship. He discusses the intentional structure of Tristram's Shorter Reviews131 consciousness and examines the transcendence and the communal nature of the self, that act so different from both the Cartesian ego and the empirical subject. Turning to another issue that has long exercised Sterne scholars, Swearingen argues against those who have posited a deep Lockean influence, that time in the book, "instead of being grounded upon the 'succession of our ideas,' is itself the ground of our idea of succession, that time is a function of the self understood as transcendence" (p. 101). Swearingen also treats finitude and the locus of human being as language. Helping us to appreciate Tristram's project and the exact nature of his understanding are the judicious discriminations Swearingen draws with other characters, most notably Walter, Tristram's father. According to Swearingen, the "uncritical egotism and seriousness about himself at the center of all Walter's theorizing is one of the most prophetic insights in the book, for at the core of the character is an attitude that threatens to reduce reality to an inventory of objects at the mercy of his own manipulative will to power in exactly the fashion that has since been the achievement of technological thought" (p. 211). "Psychic integration," however, is possible and is glimpsed in Yorick, the book's normative character. The power of play is vital (Yorick is part jester), and Swearingen offers valuable commentary on the debate over wit and judgment, as well as on comedy and philosophy. Even with the weighty philosophical apparatus Swearingen never forgets that Tristram Shandy is one of the world's greatest comic novels. Despite inevitable flaws (Swearingen sometimes pushes too hard, his book is overly long, and his prose often limps), this is an important study, one likely to exercise a healthy...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 130-131
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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