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Shorter Reviews277 There are too many such disdainful and oracular pronouncements in this essay. It is also marred by Tanner's attempt to cover too much territory at one go; one has to have marathon powers to follow him all the way. Unlike critics who focus either virtually exclusively on Wagner's music or superficially on the libretti as literary works, Tanner takes the philosophical content of Wagner's oeuvre seriously. He finds a (not the) key to the proper understanding of Wagner in what he argues persuasively is Wagner's refusal of transcendent redemption. Tanner's handling of this critical concept is stunningly skillful, and by its means he is able to unify and integrate material which many other Wagner critics have found incoherent or inconsistent. Parsifal, for example, became the capstone of Wagner's lifelong labors, and not, as many have thought, a bit of Christian religiosity in Wagner's spiritually relapsing senility. Tanner's way of interpreting Wagner gores many oxen, and will, no doubt, occasion great furies. I look forward eagerly to the publication of his forthcoming Cambridge University Press book, Wagner, Nietzsche and Tragedy. Simon Fraser UniversityD. D. Todd Literature and Negation, by Maire Jaanus Kurrik; xi & 276 pp. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979, $22.50. Not too long ago a discussion of philosophy in literature would involve one of two things: either a survey of philosophical views held by characters in novels, or an analysis of the literary style of some particular well-chosen philosopher who embellished his or her text with literary niceties such as metaphor and rhythmic prose. In Literature and Negation, Maire Jaanus Kurrik continues to a deeper level the work of mining down this peripheral and glancing contact between the two disciplines, taking it to an intersection where ontology, metaphysics, and epistemology do not just inform the opinions and actions of characters in books, but are involved in the very shape and aim of literary construction. To do this, Kurrik covers a staggering amount of territory. She summarizes virtually every philosophic view of negation of any significance since Plato and then adds short correlative discussions of well-known literary works such as Anna Karenina, Middlemarch, Timon of Athens, and Emma, to name just a few. The form of the literary work and the underlying project which it realizes are seen in the context of the philosophical problem of negation and affirmation. In sixteenth- and seventeenth-century literature, according to Kurrik, the prevailing concern is with the struggle, through the negation of the flesh, the devil, and mortality, either to a final Christian mystical affirmation (as in Paradise Regained) or to the terminal negation of suicide (as in Timon of Athens or Racine's Phaedra?) Turning from God, the nineteenth-century novel 278Philosophy and Literature plots the self's journey through the negation of repression, conflict with society, and failure to see oneself and others clearly, to a new sense of "selfhood" where negations are recovered and affirmed. (Tolstoy's Levin discovers the joys of threshing wheat, Jane Austen's Emma discovers she wants to marry after all, etc.) In the post-modern period the focus again shifts, this time from the self to language. Now the negations are the linguistic negations of Derrida and Saussure, and the escape from the endless, hollow web of linguistic "différance" (Derrida's neologism) is the new "negative" affirmation of deletion or erasure, delivering us in Beckettian silence from the endless repetitive turning of our objectless language. Post-modern literature, rejecting nineteenth-century romantic notions of plot and character, explores the meanderings of "langue" and dreams of its eventual overthrow in a new scientific language (Robbe-Grillet), or a non-language of the future. At the end, jarringly out of sequence, Kurrik tacks on a short section on tragedy concentrating on Greek drama. There is no central thesis or recommendation in Negation and Literature. Instead, it is a survey of philosophical views combined with a series of literary interpretations, and it often reads like a series of notes waiting to be made into a book. The unstated and interesting suggestion is that the shape of literary thought is itself philosophical, and that there is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 277-278
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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