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128Philosophy and Literature reading/writing of autobiography is a hermeneutical, not an epistemological enterprise. Indeed, she concludes, "Autobiography can be said to model die interpretive activity that makes understanding possible and diat marks our common humanity" (p. 119). Some may object uiat such a formulation, feir from providing a distinctive uieory of autobiography, simply identifies it with the process of understanding in general and offers no criteria for distinguishing it from odier hermeneutical acts or literary genres. Gunn's claim, however, is not just uiat autobiography is an interpretive act among others, but diat it "models" such acts in the sense diat it provides a paradigm case of interpretation as well as "enacts" it. Autobiography could uius be said to be distinguished from other interpretive acts by its self-reflexive dramatization — or, as Paul de Man might put it, its allegory — of reading. While Gunn acknowledges that autobiography sometimes stresses die failures of selfunderstanding rather than its successes, in all the texts she examines (Thoreau's Waiden, Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey," Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu, Augustine's Confessions , and the American Indian narrative Black Elk Speaks) the autobiographer is ultimately able to read his life as a coherent (ifnot necessarily happy) whole. In this respect, they are all success stories, allegories of the possibility rather than the impossibility of reading. Similarly, her assertion that "true autobiography" is always narrative excludes from consideration non-narrative texts (for instance, Montaigne's Essais, Nietzsche's Ecce Homo, Michel Leiris's La regie dujeu, and to a certain extent, Nabokov's Speak, Memory) which fragment and disperse the self and question the possibility of"understanding" it. Gunn is, of course, entitled to her own definition, but one may feel that she stacks the deck in a way that allows her to avoid confronting some of the most important issues in the current debate. On the whole, Gunn succeeds in demonstrating the interest of bringing a hermeneutical perspective to bear on the problems of autobiographical writing. While I find it hard to see in her book the "genuine breakthrough" Paul Ricoeur attributes to it in his dustjacket blurb, it is certainly a significant contribution to "the controversial theory of autobiography." University of OregonSteven Rendall Consequences of Pragmatism: (Essays: 1972-1980), by Richard Rorty; xlvii & 237 pp. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982, $29.50 clothbound, $11.95 paper. After more than twenty years in the philosophy department at Princeton, Richard Rorty has moved to the English department at the University ofVirginia, as Kenan Professor of Humanities. The change is significant in light ofhis recent work. In a 1976 essay (which, with eleven others from the period 1972-1980, forms the contents of the volume under review), Rorty voiced his reservations about "Keeping Philosophy Pure," as a discipline with privileged access to questions about Truth, Goodness, and Rationality. It Reviews129 was only around the time of Descartes and Locke, he reminds us, when we came to think of the mind as a mirror of nature and of Truth as a matter of "correspondence to nonrepresentations," that questions about these topics first seemed fully answerable, and it is diis legacy which, in Rort/s view, still haunts philosophy today. Rorty set forth the broad bases for his diesis in Philosophy and the Minor ofNature (1979). Philosophy and its professional jargon do not have privileged access to the Language of Nature herselfbecause there is no such Language, euid hence no reason for Philosophy to try to find it. Instead of professional Philosophy, it would be more honest to practice "philosophy," for Philosophy to dissolve itself into criticism; we would do better to concentrate our attention, in good pragmatist fashion, on "what works," and on describing how diings in die world "hang togedier," rather than on what is True. The contrast between knowledge as "correspondence to nonrepresentations" (the "realist" view) and knowledge as "coherence among representations" (the "pragmatist" view) sustains these essays throughout, but there is a more nagging tension between pragmatism and Philosophy than this contrast may suggest: that pragmatism, as a practice or a technique, tends to suppress reflective (philosophical) thought, in favor of seeking ways to cope with the world. Rort/s view...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 128-129
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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