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Reviews 77t« Metaphysics of Love, by A. J. Smith; 349 pp. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1985, $39.50. A. J. Smith proposes "to follow out a crisis of our European engagement with love by contrasting some writings in which love acutely poses such issues as the relation of the body to the mind and spirit . . ." (p. 2). "AU the writings considered here," he goes on, "are shaped by the momentous assumption that human love in some way rehearses a universal condition" (p. 3). Such a quest strikes one as perilous, considering the huge amount of material already ground out on the amatory tradition in European culture. Is it possible to offer anything new? Also, one has the queasy suspicion that this will be yet another academic abstract discussion of love, barren of the least hint that what is being talked about is a human emotion. This disquietude is allayed early when Smith compares passages from the giants at both ends of the tradition, Dante and Milton. We are offered fresh and instructive discriminations. We see in a new way Dante's movement toward repose at the still center, and Milton's toward a universal harmony in which the individual is forever in dynamic action. Dante's vision reveals love as a force which transcends humanity to reach pure illumination of spirit, whereas Milton shows love as incarnating itself "to prove the worth of our human nature" (p. 326). In turn, the two giants are carefully differentiated from Ficino and the Florentine Neoplatonists. This book is rich in comparing and bringing into clear focus figures that tend to be lodged in somnolent assumptions. Smith dislodged my lazy association of Spenser with Neoplatonism by showing how much he looks forward to Donne. Some of my encrusted notions about Donne were cracked by his remarkable discussion of "The Ecstasy," profitable even after the fine insights of such critics as Bennett and Williamson. Another excellence of the book is that Smith's general propositions are derived from a broad learning, an unusual variety of example. He activates figures that for many of us are only shadows or inert names: Riquier, Walter Hilton, Richard Rolle. For the first time, I was persuaded that Michelangelo is worthy of close attention as a poet who shaped his own metaphysic of love in 181 182Philosophy and Literature the ardent poems to Vittora Colonna, a metaphysic far from supine Petrarchanizing . It is a pleasure to discover that in this book love is not subjected to the processes of academic desiccation. Smith's close and intense analysis of the Paulo and Francesca passage clarifies for us the "mimetic textures" that compel the reader's feelings. We are brought to see the odd, particular fervor of the lines, the Italian on the lips and tongue. Here and elsewhere he proves to be a critic who does not shrink from showing that he is moved. Given the profit and pleasure provided by this book, it seems almost churlish to suggest that his discussion of Vaughan is something of a blemish. He attempts at tedious length to establish that Vaughan is not a dunderhead with intermittent spasms of imagination, but a thinking metaphysical poet who sees the universe as "an organism of love," a poet for whom "right seeing and feeling follow right understanding" (p. 278). I am bleakly persuaded, I suppose , but remain mutedly scandalized that he would give Vaughan twice as much space as Donne or Herbert. Professor Smith does not provide the excitations of more modish iconoclasting and deconstructing critics, but his thoughtful discriminations oppose lazy readings and are delightful to one's reason and sensibility. Whitman CollegeWalter E. Broman Roman Jakobson: Verbal Art, Verbal Sign, Verbal Time, edited by Krystyna Pomorska and Stephen Rudy; xiv & 208 pp. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985, $29.50 cloth, $12.95 paper. In 1982 I had the sad privilege of reporting the recent death of Roman Jakobson to a gathering of New Zealand linguists, having just heard the news at a linguistic conference in Sydney. The way this news was spread says something about the man. All linguists and literary theorists, whatever their specialty, will acknowledge Jakobson's massive and fundamental sixty-year...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 181-182
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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