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Reviews129 positive value. As well as completeness, it comes to suggest the passive, domestic, unobtrusive, unimaginative, and finally — perhaps most fully personified in the Knight of the Green Cloak, who assimilates the feminine and resists poetry (p. 102) — the mediocre. Thus, Cervantes's work, as El Saffar imagines it, moves beyond fiction and toward self-knowledge, but also toward the dull and uninspired. It is certainly paradoxical for such an ultimately disenchanting thesis, clad distinctively in green cloth and cover, to be posed so seductively by a scholar who is herself daring, imaginative, and, frequently, inspired. Columbia UniversityDian Fox Walker Percy and the Old Modern Age: Reflections on Language, Argument, and the Telling of Stories, by Patricia Lewis Poteat; xiv & 177 pp. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985, $20.00. Walker Percy tries to be both a novelist and a philosopher, and there's the rub, murmurs Patricia Poteat. In his new book, Habitations ofthe Word, another philosopher-novelist, William Gass, conjures the potent image of Emerson's philosopher Hyde possessing his poet Jekyll. Hyde then "wearily works his world out, ... at once the owner and surveyor and policeman of the dream" (p. 21). Poteat argues that Walker Percy's essays are not as effective, as affecting, as his fiction. No argument. Her larger claim, however, is provocative: that philosophical discourse by its very nature — atemporal, logical, impersonal — is inferior to fiction as a method of knowing, by its nature situated in place and time and convivial. Should her argument prove convincing, Hyde "wins" by destroying himself. Poteat's all-too-valid objection to my analysis of her work would be diat her attempt essays a different order of trudi from Percy's, that she is analyzing his use of language whereas he is asking different questions: "simple questions which strike at the complex heart of our culture and our selves: Why does man feel so sad in the twentieth century?; What is it to be a man and to live and die?" (p. 171). Such, in turn, would be Percy's rejoinder to her — his essays are attempts at a different kind of knowledge from that of his novels, reflecting his own distinction between "knowledge" and "news." All this is, of course, simplistic and too schematic. Percy's questions do strike my heart. Poteat presents articulate and sensitive readings of his novels. Skewering die essays on her thesis, however, Poteat is blind to their irony and fails to see that Percy is dealing with people in predicaments even here. Percy's implied reader must interact with the essays' persona. Even "the Martian" is, 130Philosophy and Literature after all, a character. (Poteat commits the all too common error of confusing Percy's ideas with his characters', even as she claims not to.) While the strategies of Percy's fiction are more affecting and effective, his essays too have the heft of a man in a predicament speaking to people in theirs. In stretching for her larger cultural criticism, Poteat distorts several ofPercy's essays in order to discover the inconsistency she says is inherent in his method. In her third chapter, for instance, she cites two passages from Percy's "The Symbolic Structure of Interpersonal Process" which she claims disclose "approval of certain fundamental tenets ofbehaviorism à la George Mead and B. F. Skinner" (pp. 96-97). Aside from the fact that they do no such thing — she cites his qualifying remarks about limited successes ofbehavioristic method while ignoring the essay's major argument, characterized in one subheading as "The Incoherence of a Behaviorist Theory of Meaning" — granting concessions does not invalidate one's position. Acknowledging that I respond to the stimulus of a student's poorly written paper in certain ways, and that that response in turn stimulates my student to alter his behavior, does not make me a behaviorist, whored forever. Tarring Percy with the Cartesian brush, Poteat's primary strategy, finally fails to convince. Descartes cannot be die sole scapegoat for our predicament; philosophy has had its arguers for the absolute since its inception. Novels, however, are not primarily "instruments with which to think about reality" as Poteat seems to think (p. 19). Twenty years ago, Sheldon Sacks...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 129-130
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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