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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 another of those dreary abstract and theoretical treatises spelling out to the theoretically naive the grammar or structure or logic of theme in general. It is instead good, old-fashioned Stoff- und Motivgeschichte, something which will not surprise those who are already familiar with Ziolkowski's work. Of the six essays that make up this book, five have appeared before, though four have been revised (or translated from German) for inclusion in this book. Methodologically, all the essays are similar. They all begin with a selection of particularly interesting and striking occurrences of a motif or theme. Next the motif is traced back to its source in myth, religion or folklore. From the source the motif is traced forward in time again, and the essays focus on particular periods where the occurrence of the motif is particularly frequent. Finally, the essays return to the starting point and some sort ofconclusion is drawn about that light the study of the motifcan throw on its use in the initial examples. The various essays deal with the occurrence and significance in Western literature of teeth and tooth-decay, of the carbuncle, the talking dog, the borrowing of characters from one work for use in another, and the problematic nature of the resurrection as a motif in twentieth-century fiction. The final essay explores the Frankenstein theme as it appears in modern literature: the moral responsibility of the scientist for the ethically objectionable use of neutral 256Philosophy and Literature science. The book also has an appendix with the title "A Practical Guide to Literary Thematics," which contains advice for the aspiring thematologist both about method and bibliographical research. Though no doubt useful for those who want to pursue this line of research and though it provides illuminating insight into the way in which Ziolkowski himself works, the appendix seems incongruous in a book which otherwise contains essays addressed to an advanced academic audience. All the essays are of a high scholarly standard, well researched, with a clear line of argument and, a rare treat these days, written in a clear and lively prose. When the book nevertheless fails to satisfy, this has to do with the nature of the subject itself. For in spite of the presence of the word "thematics" in the title of the book, only one of the six essays (the last, "The Ethics of Science from Adam to Einstein: Variations on a Theme") deals with a theme. The other essays all deal with literary motifs. For the general reader this is an important distinction. For central, perennial literary themes have an inherent interest which literary motifs do not possess. And an exploration of such a theme tells us something about why literature is interesting and important which a discussion of a motif cannot tell us. An exploration of the treatment in Western literature of the theme of the moral responsibility of the scientist for the practical application of his research gives us insight into the literary...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 255-256
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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