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Reviews101 In short, the book is a swamp of excruciating prose. The presence of some readable, lucid, and even intensely interesting patches such as "Recapitulation" and moments in the author's discussion of Whitman only adds to the sense of regret that criticism should come to this. Whitman CollegeWalter E. Broman Meaning and Reading. A Philosophical Essay on Language and Literature, by Michel Meyer; ix & 176 pp. Amsterdam : John Benjamins, 1983. Michel Meyer's book presents a theory of language and understanding — problematology — based on questioning and taking literariness, style, and poiesis into account. After an introduction in which he argues that a problematological approach to language is necessary because human beings have a question in mind whenever they use speech or writing, Meyer devotes six chapters to establishing the superiority and adequacy of this approach. He dismisses the Fregean conception of meaning ("Xerox-semantics"), which ignores the fact that any utterance always occurs in context and which is incapable of handling discourse semantics; he spells out the problematological view: we resort to language in order to express a question (problem) and/or an answer (solution) and the meaning of an utterance is what is in question in that utterance; he characterizes the textuality of a text as the question implied by the individual sentences ofthat text but not answered in them; he defines ideology as any set of related ideas pretending to answer all possible questions and legitimizing a society's beliefs by concealing their ultimate groundlessness as well as its own; he sees literature as an autocontextualized mode of discourse generated by some ideological quandary and staging a defense of or attack on aspects of a given ideology by transforming nonrhetorical or real questions into rhetorical or fictional ones; and, finally, he sketches a description of the interpretative process whereby interpretation consists in making explicit the question accounting for the answer constituted by a text viewed synthetically. Meyer's discussion is often suggestive and sometimes illuminating. He tirelessly underlines the importance of context. He insists that textual and sentential semantics must be unified. He shows that a theory of reference need not be an ontology, that diere is no essential linguistic difference between literary and nonliterary texts, and that authorial intention does not represent a necessary explanatory concept. He also provides an interesting characterization 102Philosophy and Literature of Don Quixote as exemplifying the essential links between literature and ideology; and his criticism of hermeneutics and analytical philosophy for dissociating the theory of meaning from the theory of interpretation as well as his determination to make room for history in problematology are notable. Meyer's discussion is not, however, without weaknesses. Thus, he frequently relies on assertion rather than demonstration ahd becomes less than compelling. He claims, for example, that "one does not resort to language without the intention ofconvincing the addressee ofwhat one says" (p. 71); yet in saying to an addressee something like "What time is it?" in what way, exactly, am I trying to convince that addressee? Above all, he fails to show in detail how an utterance provides the name of that which is problematic (in question) and necessitates an answer. It is no doubt true, for instance, diat "Napoleon lost at Waterloo" is paraphrasable by "Napoleon is the individual who lost at Waterloo" and can be said to give an answer to "Who lost at Waterloo?" (p. 37). But it is also true that it can constitute the answer to an indefinite number ofother questions (e.g. , "Why do you look so sad?") just as it is true diat a given question (say, "What do you want?") can have an indefinite number of appropriate answers. In other words, however attractive Meyer's question view of meaning and interpretation may be, he does not offer enough proof of its applicability and usefulness. In spite of this, I feel that problematology as presented by Meyer is not without promise and I believe that Meaning and Reading can be of interest to literary theorists and philosophers alike. University of PennsylvaniaGerald Prince Essays on Classical Rhetoric and Modern Discourse, edited by Robert J. Connors, Lisa S. Ede, and Andrea A. Lunsford ; xiii & 291 pp. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1984...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 101-102
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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