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Shorter Reviews135 Interpretation Theory: Discourse andthe Surplus ofMeaning, by Paul Ricoeur, pp. 107. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1976, $4.00, paper. This little book is a welcome addition to the corpus of works by Ricoeur now available in English. Issued in an inexpensive softcover form, it should prove an attractive volume for use in university courses dealing with Ricoeur. It offers a good short introduction to the hermeneutical element in Ricoeur's thought and does so in a way that draws together several themes that have occupied his attention for the past decade. Four essays comprise the book: "Language as Discourse," "Speaking and Writing," "Metaphor and Symbol," and "Explanation and Understanding." They embody in expanded form a series of lectures given at Texas Christian University in November, 1973. The subtitle was the general title of the lectures when originally delivered, while Interpretation Theory was chosen for the published work. Although perhaps less precise, the shorter title is appropriate, so long as one bears in mind that this is not a magnum opus but a series of talks directed to a general, though literate, audience. For the reader familiar with Ricoeur's earlier writings, the present volume does not contain surprises. In the first essay Ricoeur cogently argues that meaning belongs not so much to the event-character of discourse as to the mysterious conjunction of identity (noun, subject) and predication (verb) that make up a sentence. For text interpretation, therefore, the basic units are not words but sentences: we understand not events but sentences. Thus his formula: "If all discourse is actualized as event, all discourse is understood as meaning" (p. 12). In the second essay, Ricoeur argues (against Plato) that writing possesses a certain iconicity, a power to evoke a plenitude of meaning that transforms one's world. The estrangement of writing becomes a creative transformation and the text "retrieves its meaning through and beyond estrangement ." In fact, says Ricoeur, "interpretation, philosophically understood, is nothing else than an attempt to make estrangement and distanciation productive" (p. 44). (In this he is in agreement with Hans-Georg Gadamer, whose Truth and Method has recently been translated into English.) Ricoeur's departures from his earlier thought are relatively minor in these essays. They serve rather to draw different strands together into a meaningful configuration of theses on language and interpretation. He does attempt to make clear his rejection of the tradition of hermeneutics oriented to subjectivity in the manner of Schleiermacher and Dilthey. He seems to be suggesting an ontological dimension of hermeneutics at the end of the fourth essay when he says that the text enjoins the reader to experience the world in a new way; it "goes beyond the function of pointing out and showing what already exists. . . . Here showing is at the same time creating a new mode of being" (p. 88). And at another point he remarks that he no longer takes metaphoric and symbolic texts as paradigmatic for a general theory of hermeneutics but seeks a theory that confronts "the whole problem of discourse, including writing and literary composition" (p. 78). Such a theory would, as his book here does, 136Philosophy and Literature bring together reflection on discourse, on writing and speaking, on metaphor and symbol, and on explanation and understanding. Though Interpretation Theory may lack the concreteness and excitement of some of Ricoeur's longer works, it does offer an inexpensive and useful survey of his general view of interpretation. MacMurray CollegeRichard E. Palmer The Imprisoned Splendor: a Study in [Early] Victorian Critical Theory, by Lawrence J. Starzyk; pp. 200. London and Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1977, $10.50. I would not go so far as to say with the Reverend Sydney Smith that "I never read a book before reviewing it; it prejudices a man so." But I freely admit that I did not finish Professor Starzyk's book; not that its ideas are uninteresting, or its thesis unacceptable, but simply that I find it unreadable. Its idea of argument consists of hovering around some assertion or image in itself quite straightforward but presented so repetitiously that one fights for the meaning or despairs of a simple statement. Quotation alone...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 135-136
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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