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244Philosophy and Literature Authoritarian Fictions: The Ideological Novel as a Literary Genre, by Susan Rubin Suleiman; ix & 299 pp. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983, $30.00 cloth, $12.50 paper. After its infatuation, in the 1960s and 1970s, with works which were trasgressive and experimental, criticism now seems to be returning to the exact opposite: texts which are located within a specific tradition, do not break away from culture, and are related to what Barthes used to call a "comfortable" practice of reading. Suleiman's book is a case in point. Indeed, it deals with one of the most maligned genres of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: the roman à thèse, that is, as defined by Suleiman, the type of novel which explicitly puts forth a "recognized body of doctrine or system of ideas" (p. 1). Authoritarian Fictions provides both a description and a typology of the roman à thèse. What characterizes the genre, and sets it apart from other types of realist fiction, is the presence of three traits: an "unambiguous, dualistic system of values," a "rule of action addressed to the reader," and a "doctrinal intertext" (p. 56). On the syntagmatic axis of narrative, the genre appears to be realized in two main modes: the structure of apprenticeship (a variety of Bildungsroman), and the structure of confrontation (which presents a struggle between good and bad, heaven and hell). The device used most often to impose the correct thesis upon the reader is redundancy, here a rhetorical or stylistic kind more than a linguistic one. The author, to ensure that the text will be properly decoded, resorts to "amalgams" (p. 190): he makes, for example, events redundant with the interpretive commentary provided by the omniscient narrator, or cultural qualities of a character redundant with his or her ideological qualities or dramatic functions. Do these procedures always work? Is the reader, in all cases, convinced of the validity of the proposed thesis? Our experience of reading says otherwise, and Suleiman, in one of the most perceptive chapters of her book, seeks to account for this resistance. She argues that there are frequently frictions between the ideological and the fictional components of the narrative, between the schematizing bent of the thesis and the pluralizing tendency of novelistic writing. The text may say too much, for instance provide contradictory meanings while presenting negative characters with enough details to make them appealing to the reader; or it may say too little, notably not introduce the positive figure(s) who could clear up the ambiguities. Insofar as they complicate the transmission of the proposed truth, these various lacks or excesses undermine what the novel has precisely set out to accomplish; the message can no longer be unequivocally decoded, it is made confusing and undecidable. Suleiman's book presents several interests. From a theoretical standpoint, the main one is to combine critical frameworks generally regarded as incompatible. Reviews245 So, in what probably constitutes her boldest move, Suleiman draws on both structuralism and deconstruction. Specifically, she shows how one can use the procedures of the two interpretive conventions without adhering too rigidly to the postulates in which these conventions are grounded. She constructs a model, elaborates a typology, and examines a functioning, but she does not endorse the presuppositions of coherence and homogeneity which usually support the structuralist endeavor. Likewise, she reveals the lacks or the incompleteness of the texts she is considering, but she does not restrict her inquiry to establishing how these texts do not work or "deconstruct themselves." Because, among other things, of this flexibility and ecumenism, Authoritarian Fictions is a most valuable study. It makes a significant contribution to theory of narrative, theory of reading, and to scholarship on French literature of the twentieth century. University of VermontPhilippe Carrard Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language, by Umberto Eco; ix & 242 pp. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984, $25.00. Eco's latest book, his most important effort since the seminal A Theory of Semiotics (1976), treats central problems in the philosophy of language from the perspective of a general semiotics grounded in the Peircean notion of "unlimited semiosis." While readers familiar with Eco's earlier work will here meet with no major...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 244-245
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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