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Reviews119 objectivity and materialism have left a strong imprint upon reality, the very forces that should be reacting to such a reality seem part of the same dehumanized world. University of Michigan — Ann ArborIra Königsberg Metamorphosis: The Mind in Exile, by Harold Skulsky; 284 pp. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981, $16.50. What is it like to be a bat — not, "what would it be like for me to behave like a bat," but, "what is it like for a bat to be a bat?" Thus philosopher Thomas Nagel sets for Harold Skulsky an extreme limit of"certain ultimate and perhaps menacing questions about what it is to be a person" (p. 1). Skulsky explores these questions through close readings of texts in the literature of metamorphosis — from Homer's Odyssey, Ovid, Apuleius, Marie de France, Dante, Spenser, Keats, Kafka, and Virginia Woolf— which pose them in a conceptually and morally "distressing" form. Though, as Skulsky notes, they are either simple or nonsense questions to materialists, behaviorists, or linguistic positivists, they are complex and central to the fantasists of transformation: What is personhood — is it to be identified with body, behavior, or mind? If with mind, how can it be grasped in others? Can mind persist through its host body's deformation into an alien diing? In what sense? What are the moral consequences of affirming or denying personhood, or the autonomy of mind? The poets of metamorphosis shed light on these questions because their fictional propositions are valid maps of subjective experience not formulable in other ways and because by Üieir fictions "they are encouraged ... to affirm the autonomy of the mental as the ground ... of individual dignity and rights, and as the ultimate object of love" (P- 2). These affirmations are Skulsk/s too: mind is autonomous and survives transformation, creates personhood and the moral obligations associated with it, and can be grasped as otherness by imaginative empathy. However, because he pursues these issues not systematically but as each text highlights them, and encodes rather than reformulates them, his argument is primarily literary. His principal effort is expended on deepening our grasp of the contingencies of transformation, or the phenomenology of "mind in exile," through analyses that emphasize textual interpretation. This interdisciplinary approach leads to new and often brilliantly corrective readings, grounded in hard common sense as well as sensitivity to nuance and broad learning (Skulsky ranges through primary and secondary texts of six linguistic cultures, in philosophy and literature, from classical to modern times, and all translations are his own). Moments of pedantry, stylistic overcompression, and episodic argument are far outweighed by stretches of enlightened learning, eloquence, and tight exegesis. The general conduct of the book is lively, because the author is always sparring, using combative logic to subject received views and too-easy readings to convincing rebuttals. If sometimes his bluntness turns into literalizing obtuseness or beats down straw men, it is 120Philosophy and Literature nonetheless from such argumentative energy diat the major insights flow. There are too many, and many too finely crafted, to display in a brief review — from the proposal that Circe's swine are not allegories ofmoral debasement but images ofpersonae in the process of initiation, to the demonstration that Woolfs Orlando affirms personhood through a consistent thematic and rhetorical expression of die mind's imaginative freedom. This last interpretation also presents a paradigm of Skulsk/s literary and philosophical defense of personhood as a concept necessary, for good and ill, to human existence. Because his defense rests on asserting die autonomy of mind, the terms in which die author abjures psychological interpretation strike a discordant note. His particular approach gives him the right to ignore it; but to say that "die lemguage ofdie individual or collective unconscious" constitutes a separate "text," irrelevant because "its meaning, be it ever so deep, is peculiar to itself (p. 9), is to introduce a separation between consciousness and unconsciousness that undermines the very autonomy of mind he so eloquendy affirms. Whitman CollegeEdwin Stein George Eliot, Romantic Humanist: A Study of the Philosophical Structure ofher Novels, by K. M. Newton; vii & 215 pp. Totowa, New Jersey: Barnes & Noble, 1981, $26.50. Though the veil is not yet...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 119-120
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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