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204Philosophy and Literature the book's value as a reliable teaching companion. Equally problematic is the frequent inattention to deconstruction's radical dimensions. One consequence is that the dynamics of power within writing and interpretation are often underemphasized, apart from Sharon Crowley's brief but apt remarks. Another is the damaging implication —by virtue of concentrating solely on literature — that while there may well be text everywhere, only properly literary texts are really worth consideration. With more coherence and clarification of these issues, an intermittently provocative and stimulating book might have become an invaluable one. As it stands, it only fitfully serves the readership to whom it is addressed despite some individually perceptive and penetrating contributions. University of Canterbury, New ZealandJohn Farnsworth TAe Open Boundary of History and Fiction: A Critical Approach to the French Enlightenment, by Suzanne Gearhart; 300 pp. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984, $32.50. Although the title of Gearhart's study does not suggest a book on contemporary theory, this is precisely what her "critical approach to the French Enlightenment " amounts to. By arguing that modern theory has invented the Age of Reason as a "unified totality" in the very process of constituting itself, Gearhart radically questions the assumption that there ever was such a thing as a closed-off Enlightenment philosophy of history. She demonstrates that, on the contrary, "the fundamental preoccupation of the French Enlightenment is the problematic relationship between history and fiction" (p. 285), and turns the critical insights of the age back upon that construct: "Theory can be, and in some sense always is, the object of its object, and this means that the literary, philosophical, and historical texts treated as examples of a theoretical position have as much to say about theory as it has to say about them" (p. 291). Discussing the major trends in recent theory — formalism (White, Genette), structuralism (Barthes, Foucault, Lévi-Strauss, Althusser), and poststructuralism (Derrida, de Man) — the study confronts these theoretical positions with their eighteenth-century counterparts in order to show that the allegedly antithetical views are in truth implicated in one another. In light of this confrontation our "modern" way of dealing with history appears as a delusive gesture: no matter how hard we try to subordinate content to structure or the literal to Reviews205 the metaphorical, the attempt to reduce the historical to an effect of language inevitably leads to self-referential paradox. Any such inclusion is always an act of exclusion, of drawing a boundary that is immediately transgressed by what it tries to exclude. Derridians, of course, have been saying this all along, and the notion of an "open boundary" could be read as a variation on the familiar theme of nonclosure . Gearhart, however, adds a strikingly new dimension to the discussion of origins by drawing attention to the role of "theatricality" within that debate. Whereas this notion occupies a strategic position similar to that of différance in Derrida's discourse, it has the advantage of dramatizing that infinitely displaced origin which ultimately resists naming. Pointing to "a textuality that is not simply of the text," the theater "signifies the irruption of what is posited as the nontextual in the textual, while, at the same time, it reveals the fictive, theatrical characteristics of the historical event" (p. 292). It thus thwarts any attempt to reduce either fiction or history to a simple origin. If we take seriously Gearhart's contention that there is "no unique perspective " from which to trace the shifting boundary between history and fiction (p. 8), it should come as no surprise that her own discourse does not escape the mechanisms of conceptual demarcation. This is perhaps most evident in Gearhart's own position vis-à-vis the Enlightenment and modern theory as a whole. Although she attacks modern theory for reifying the Enlightenment, she too must posit the age as distinct from our own in order to turn it critically upon contemporary theory. At the same time, however, her claim of treating the Enlightenment "on its own terms" (p. 285) remains a critical fiction. For Gearhart's revisionary gesture of returning to the origins is every bit as much a part of contemporary problematics as this...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 204-205
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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