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Reviews307 only one book on James, read this one, and before you read another book, read this one again. University of OregonJohn J. Stuhr Post-Structuralism and the Question of History, edited by Derek Attridge, GeoffBennington, and Robert Young; viii 8c 292 pp. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987, $39.50. The current surge of theoretical and practical interest in history has tended to foster a reductive view of poststructuralism (or deconstruction) as an arcane theory from the recent past that now can be safely set in opposition to the more validly historical matter of the moment. The wide-ranging essays collected in diis volume should help to dispel this simplification. For it was and is poststructuralism (diough the term remains problematic) that opens up today's questions of history and empowers much of the best work now being done in the area. The editors aimed in this volume to provide a collection of previously unpublished essays that could help "situate and untangle" the "extremely complex " relationship between structuralism, poststructuralism, and history (p. 2). The achievement of the collection, however, lies less in its untangling than in its rendering complex that which indeed is complex. The four categories under which the essays are organized suggest the range of interests represented: "History, Marxism, and the Institution," "Difference and History," "Aesthetics and History," "History as Text." Though all thirteen are essays of quality, I would single out for special notice: Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak on reading Marx after Derrida (an expanded version of an earlier essay), Tony Bennett on Marxist literary theory, Jonathan Culler on the institutionalization of criticism , Rodolphe Gasché on aesthetics and history, Jean-François Lyotard on Kant on the "historico-political." In their introduction, Bennington and Young set the tone for the volume by registering surprise that "the attack mounted on poststructuralism in the name of history should be so confident in its reliance on precisely what is in question" (p. 4). Invoking Derrida, they go on to raise the issue of historicity, specifically the "historicity inhabiting the very presupposition that history is the fundamental mode of being" (p. 8). The implication is diat we find ourselves situated in the always double process of historicizing texts and textualizing history. Thus in his own essay "Demanding History," Bennington first problematizes the dictum "Always historicize!" and then goes on to track even die Marxist thinking ofTerry Eagleton from an earlier "scientism" to a more recent 308Philosophy and Literature emphasis on the " 'textualizing' ofhistory" (pp. 20-21). As Mark Cousins points out in his essay on historical investigation, "diere is a level of irreducible theoretical decision widiin historicalwriting" (p. 128). Itis diis dieoretical dimension that envelops the writing of history in a question of mediation that belies scientistic aims for pure transparence. Arguing the case for a poststructuralist Marxism, Tony Bennett observes similarly that "in its more scientistic formulations , Marxism has typically represented its own relation to reality as one of pure transparency, diereby denying its own discursivity and textuality." There is an "essentializing orientation" behind much Marxist thought, an assumption that literary or social texts can be explained by "referring such texts to the conditions of production obtaining at the moment of dieir origin" (pp. 67, 69). It is precisely die possibility of such transparent access to moments of origin mat poststructuralist thought problematizes. Such questioning, however, does not make the thinking of, say, Derrida "ahistorical," as new historicists often argue. Emphasizing the textual conditions of history-making need not mean reducing the historical world to a mere text. Derrida is clear on this issue: "it was never our wish to extend the reassuring notion of the text to a whole extra-textual realm and to transform the world into a library" (p. 31). Gayatri Spivak amplifies this point by observing that instead of claiming that diere is nothing outside die text, Derrida instead is affirming that "die so-called 'outside' of the verbal text is articulated with it in a web or network (that is 'socio-cultural,' or 'politico-economic,' or yet 'psychosexual ,' depending on our practical/theoretical focus)" (p. 31). The new historicists have not "rediscovered history" for the simple reason diat, as Rodolphe Gasché argues, "history was never lost...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 307-308
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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