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254Philosophy and Literature Themes and Texts: Toward a Poetics ofExpressiveness, by Alexander Zholkovsky; 300 pp. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984, $35.00. How and where do we find the principle from which we elaborate our reading of texts? How do we relate the "theme" to the linguistic components constituting the surface of a text? Is there one poetics applicable to all texts? These are a few of the questions addressed by Themes and Texts, a collection of essays written during the last decade, in which Alexander Zholkovsky analyzes subjects ranging from a two-sentence joke by Bertrand Russell to the "poetic world" of Pushkin and Pasternak, from a lesson in film making by Eisenstein to a Somali folk tale. The subtitle, Toward a Poetics ofExpressiveness, reveals the unifying theory. PE, as Zholkovsky calls it, is the new designation for his long-standing elaboration of a "generative poetics." His choice of the term "expressiveness" indicates his ambition to go beyond formalism — but in the direction of the past — by extending his hand toward more traditional approaches such as New Criticism. In his introduction, Zholkovsky's attempt to give the reader a coherent view of the conceptual framework underlying his poetics is not very successful. He seems to fluctuate between a definition of theory as an all-encompassing metalanguage and several unanalyzed assumptions regarding "symbolism," "intention," and the "unity" of a literary work. Yet his practical criticism follows a few consistent strategies in line with a structuralist thematics. The first is a "ruthless separation" between themes, unexpressive in themselves, and expressive devices (EDs) which allow the "embodiment" of themes in a text. A finite number of EDs (concretization, augmentation, contrast, etc.) constitute the "grammar" of artistic expression, which organizes the concrete motifs borrowed from the "dictionary of reality." Each complete textual description is modeled on generative grammar. After a theme is obtained, either by subtraction of concrete motifs or by a study of the "constantly repeated images," it serves as a starting point for the derivation of each unique transformational diagram. Finally, Zholkovsky chooses to treat each author's poetic world as one single work conveying "just one invariant message." But whereas this assertion is presented as a mere logical step from the fundamental principles of structuralism, it seems to depend on an unconscious shift of his notion of expressiveness from a linguistic ground, apparently related to Hjemslev, to a vaguely phenomenological one. "Expressiveness" comes dangerously close to the common notion of expression. The idea that the message of an author is built into his code is not examined until chapter 11, and still a little too briefly. In keeping with the traditional notion of poetics, Zholkovsky does not speculate on the nature of literature, but takes for granted a definition based on aesthetic considerations. PE "takes literally the idea of 'artistic logic' underlying any literary convention — a logic in which vividness, symmetry, variety, contrast , fusion, and so on, constitute proofs" (p. 26). Since it focuses on processes Reviews255 rather than meaning, it allows no more than an "accurate portrayal" of literary texts, a rigorous formulation of "the reader's natural reaction to and reasoned judgment of the work of art" (p. 20). But this modest enterprise soon reveals its ambition to provide "a metalanguage for any reading" (p. 28). On the one hand, PE isjust a tool for refining our intuitive understanding of what makes a literary text work, on the other it promises to furnish "the one functioning model" capable of describing exhaustively the semiotic pair, "a text-a reading." Formalism is, indeed, as Paul de Man said, "an all-absorbing and tyrannical muse." If this volume is somewhat frustrating to the reader with a theoretical bent, it also provides many pleasurable moments, for Zholkovsky is an insightful and passionate reader of literature. Furthermore, as the essays progress chronologically, he ventures more freely into theoretical asides which open up many suggestive avenues of reflexion on the relationship between literary criticism and the sciences of language, and on the value and limitations of formalism. Dartmouth CollegeCoi.letif. Gaudin Varieties of Literary Thematics, by Theodore Ziolkowski; xiii & 267 pp. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983, $25.00. Despite the ominous title, this is not...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 254-255
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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