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Reviews229 The Rhetoric of Doubtful Authority. Deconstructive Readings of Self-Questioning Narratives, St. Augustine to Faulkner, by Ralph Flores, 175 pp. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984, $17.50. This book is an application of the techniques of Derridean deconstruction to the works of five writers (Augustine, Descartes, Cervantes, Sterne, and Faulkner) who are generally considered major figures in the Western literary tradition. One aim of the book is to extend the scope of deconstructive activity to a textual corpus chronologically more extensive than that usually treated by American deconstructors, so that it is not rooted solely in a nineteenth-andtwentieth -century "modernity." In this, as in so many other ways, Flores is faithful to the project of his own authorizing figures Derrida and (to a lesser extent) Foucault, some of whose most influential texts were written about Cervantes and Descartes. To what extent these readings are deconstructive or to what extent the texts treated are deconstructive of themselves through their "self-questioning narratives " is difficult to say. The texts are well chosen with a view to unveiling certain types of rhetorical activity within the tradition. Flores follows carefully suggestions of a lack or problem in the genealogical or authorizing relationship, themes of insemination and dissemination, indications of an indeterminate relationship between reference and figurai uses of language, and questionings of the concept of self (in connection with the "narrator," the "character," or the "author"). However, in this generally very readable work, more attention might well have been given to some repeatedly invoked points. For instance, the distinction between figurai and literal is applied in many instances despite the difficulties which the texts studied present for such analysis. Of a fascinating passage of Tristram Shandy, the critic writes of "the entanglement of literally disrupted dissemination with disrupted speech" (p. 133), yet the term "literal" here can only be justified by a surrender to a certain very traditional reading with its notion of a privileged ground. This may not be troubling in most contexts, but it seems inconsistent with Flores's ambition to achieve a rigorous distrust of the usual readerly assumptions of narrative. Resemblances, which as Flores notes are the condition of metaphor (p. 134), are "suspiciously rhetorical" (p. 132) in Tristram Shandy. He earlier, in his essay on Descartes, alludes to the danger of "our own expectations for 'logic' or a coherent 'story,' [which] may deflect attention from textual rhetoricity as an ungroundable series of tropings" (p. 87). This suspicion of resemblances might well have made it more difficult for the critic to recognize metaphoricity and literality as textual functions. The ease of certain readings contrasts with the sustained tone of urgent discursive hygiene through 230Philosophy and Literature which Flores tries to awaken us to the ruses of language and the duplicity of "mimetic" narrative. Flores is persuasive in his reminder that deconstruction and recuperation are not unquestionably opposed. These studies may in fact be considered both deconstructive, or at least as associating the chosen texts with deconstruction, and as recuperative, for the texts are reappropriated as both authorized by and authorizing Derrida's works, particularly Dissemination and Margins ofPhilosophy. In this respect the meditations upon "fathering" which are (despite disclaimers of totalization and centering) fundamental to each of these essays can be related to the desire to create a family of texts which share a similar absence of authority or which question authority in such a way as to point towards that explicit or implicit lack. Despite the worthiness of the project and of Flores's demonstration of an impressive range of knowledge, the book's impact is somewhat lessened by a certain predictability in proceeding, once the general approach is laid out. As Flores himself notes, "Derridean dislocation may be powerful precisely to the extent of its unpredictability, its strangeness, and above all its slowness" (p. 43). Nonetheless, by reminding the community of critics that the themes of doubtful authority are active in a major portion of the traditional canon, Flores does help to undermine widespread notions of modernity and tradition. This study should definitely be read by those interested in the applications of Derrida's work. Dartmouth CollegeJohn D. Lyons Literature and Propaganda, by A. P. Foulkes...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 229-230
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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