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Reviews191 Ihab Hassan, stresses the role of indeterminacy and immanence in postmodernism and provides a working definition. From this bare outline the volume's virtues and vices are readily apparent. On the one hand, its breadth ensures that every reader will find something of interest. Moreover, the variety of approaches and subject matter is stimulating and encourages impromptu comparisons. On the other hand, the selections themselves present several problems. One wonders, for example, why Dada receives so little attention, and why Italian Futurism is ignored altogether. Given the vast importance of these movements for modern aesthetics, their absence is unfortunate. A second objection concerns the concept of "modernism " which serves as the book's focal point. Rather than revealing the extraordinary diversity that modernism assumes — as the editors would like — the volume demonstrates the futility of applying this term to nineteenth and twentieth-century aesthetic experience. Indeed, many of the contributors ignore the term or reject it entirely (see Décaudin, pp. 25-28, in particular). Ironically, the word itself testifies to its own inadequacy. Since the primary meaning of "modern" is "contemporary," any attempt to historicize it is doomed to failure. Its meaning is clearly relative, not absolute. The problem has been compounded by the invention of "postmodernism" which represents a contradiction in terms. How can a movement be more contemporary than contemporary? How can it transcend immediacy? The real problem with these concepts, however, is that they are AngloAmerican inventions that have little currency outside English and American letters. Even there, moreover, their use is problematic, for it reduces aesthetic phenomena to their lowest common denominator. The difficulty is exacerbated when one branches out into other domains. In art and European literature , for example, a "criticism of differences" (Décaudin, p. 26) is infinitely more rewarding. Never a felicitous choice, the concept of "modernism" has thus become seriously outdated. Although it is probably too much to expect English departments to abandon the term, those of us who work in other fields would do well to eliminate it from our vocabulary. Illinois State UniversityWillard Bohn Literature and the Discovery ofMethod in the English Renaissance , by Patrick Grant; ix & 188 pp. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985, $22.50. The scientific revolution of the Renaissance applied experimental and mathematical methods to nature in a framework of corpuscular materialism that resisted divine intervention. It privileged primary qualities and objectiv- 192Philosophy and Literature ity, the world emerging as a mechanized orchestration of mass, motion, space, and time with an inscrutable First Cause and some scattered grace-notes but very little in the way of personally accessible higher truths and reliably indexed secondary or subjective qualities. Science and religion, or physics and metaphysics, each held to their own peculiar form of determinism, reducing man to either the natural effect of efficient causes or the forlorn victim of predestination. Imagination was at best "decaying sense," leaving literature little to do of intellectual importance. Letters, occupying a middle state between celestial (and mundane) mechanics and theology, operated at the edges of science and religion. The literary mind responded by dealing with the consequences instead of the nature of scientific method. Poets could at least balk slightly, stressing subjective reactions, rattling the slack linkage of language to things and meaning, monitoring the depersonalizing excesses of scientific and theological determinism, reaching critical self-consciousness, and devising an imaginative countermetaphysics to God's unmediated presence in or above the world and His possible absence from it. Patrick Grant shows a characteristic response in each of five writers: an ironic approach to knowledge in More; a didactic ridicule of mechanical behavior in Jonson; a paradoxical treatment of the human condition in Donne; an odd expansion of metaphysics in Browne; and a rational scepticism leading to visionary mysticism in Law. In his History of King Richard III, More indicts tyranny; but his narrative voice quavers, shifts perspective on events, slips into litotes, and vexes the facts. Certainty is not so easy to attain, a realization that extends to textual truth in the Gospels and substance in the Eucharist. Jonson's moral idealism falters before the mechanical lurches of bodies whose behavioral puppetry honors folly more than it promotes judgment; vaporous absurdity...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 191-193
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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