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Shorter Reviews2 7 1 literature is primarily a linguistic enterprise; it is not. Literature is primarily a moral enterprise in which various uses of language are essential means to conducting the enterprise. To suppose that linguistics can give us insight into literature is very like thinking that a knowledge of the chemistry and optics of pigments can furnish us with insight into painting. Pratt, in fact, persistently confuses or equivocates between the study of literary discourse and the study of literature, as though process and product, means and ends, were identical (see, e.g., pp. xi, xviii, 87-88). Simon Fraser UniversityD. D. Todd La Rochefoucauld. The Art of Abstraction, by Philip E. Lewis; pp. 201. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1977, $10.00. La Rochefoucauld's work, perhaps due to its fragmentary nature, has resisted a full-length systematic analysis. Philip Lewis's study successfully fills that gap in French literary criticism. Putting aside questions of influence yet taking into account most significant past criticism, Lewis, in four highly intelligent but burdensomely dense chapters, gives us a study of La Rochefoucauld's corpus visibly influenced by both phenomenologically-oriented criticism and the scientific formalism of structuralism. Chapter one treats the maxim in literary history, its ambiguities and the trials of fragmented reading. Fixing his study in the order of discourse and elucidating the diaphoric, rather than metaphoric, relationship between experience and language, Lewis weaves a critical position between that of Barthes, who gives priority to form and finds a core model for the maxim in the "noun-copulative-noun" (p. 27) sequence, and that of Starobinski who, in attempting to seize the relationship between form and theme, ends by finding a meaningful rapport between the willful disorder of the Maximes and the internal discontinuity of man. Then, rejecting the traditional view of the Maximes as the epitome of simplicity, clarity, and good taste, Lewis offers three reasons for their ambiguity: the treatment of man as a species endowed with human essence in a scope that is not uniformly general, "the co-existence of conflicting explanations" (p. 37), such as self-love, nature, and chance, and "the presence of obscure, anomalous or polyvalent meanings" (p. 39). Finally, in a section of special interest to reader-response and intratextuality critics, Lewis analyzes the problems of fragmentary reading. The highly thematic second and third chapters deal with the psychology of self-love and the social ethic of honnêteté. By radicalizing the traditional system of self-love in the Maximes and by positing the dual nature of self-love as psychic substance and psychic energy, Lewis provocatively establishes a network of self-referentiality at the level of both product and process mimesis. 272Philosophy and Literature Unlike the Essais of Montaigne, the Maximes project an image of universal man through the observation of others rather than by introspection. This phenomenon, which fosters authorial effacement, is necessitated by the theory of self-love which precludes accurate self-perception and opens naturally onto a sociological perspective. Lewis studies the rationality of play at both the linguistic level and the level of action. Social intercourse is depicted as a series of exchanges predicated upon conflicts of interests. The feasibility of the realization of honnêteté is then explored along with the ethical dilemma caused by the general theory of self-love and the particular theory of honnêteté. Indeed, little hope is held out, at least to the average egotist, for the attainment of true love, friendship, and authenticity. The initial section of the final chapter depicts La Rochefoucauld insisting upon the limits of knowledge but not on its impossibility. Studied self-interest and the quality of certain truths can lead to a practical wisdom. The second part establishes the binary ordering of the typical maxim, and, while explicating a threefold tendency of the maxim toward antithesis, paradox, and restrictive identity, concludes that "a unitary global conception of the Maximes—of its texture and language—remains to be formulated" (p. 167). The highly provocative final section, dedicated to the maxim as abstract discourse, studies pronominal ramifications, reader response, nominal and verbal styles, ideological discourse and the co-existence of metalingual and poetic functions in the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 271-272
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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