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310Philosophy and Literature literary life in die hexagon (and passing over die warts of a Voltaire, for example), Clark has agreed to become part of the most cunning, tenacious, and successful propaganda machine mat the West has ever known. Indeed, if there is one element that could have been fruitfully developed in the book, it is the notion of conquest dirough culture, born—like most institutions—in the Age of Louis XIV, and practiced ever since. Voltaire, Hugo, and Sartre are celebrated and, often, more revered abroad than in continental France, and their very renown from Montreal to Dakkar is the ultimate proofof die viability of French literary culture. University of California, Santa BarbaraRonald W. Tobin The Ethics ofReading: Kant, de Man, Eliot, TroUope,James, and Benjamin, byJ. Hillis Miller; xiii & 138 pp. New York: Columbia University Press, 1987, $20.00. J. Hillis Miller maintains in this book that mere is a properly ethical moment in the act of reading. This moment represents "the effective and functional embodiment of some ethical law" (p. 18). It cannot be accounted for by the sociohistorical factors impinging upon it; radier, it undermines these factors or puts them into question. It involves both necessity and freedom, a necessary reaction to a demand made by the text as well as the reader's responsibility for the reaction and its effects. Miller explores this ethical moment by focusing on texts in which an author is reading himself or herself: a footnote in Kant's Foundations ofthe Metaphysics ofMorals, a passage from de Man's essay inAllegories ofReading entitied "Allegory {Julie)," chapter 17—"In Which the Story Pauses a Litde"—of George Eliot's Adam Bede, Trollope's An Autobiography, Henry James's preface to The Golden Bowl in the New York edition of his work, and Walter Benjamin's "The Task of the Translator." Miller finds that, in Kant, duty not based on the moral law as such is not duty but delusion; however, the moral law as such is inaccessible and it is therefore impossible to determine whether a duty is a delusion or not. In de Man, the text proves incapable of reading itself, of profiting from its own wisdom; we can never read reading, and ethical judgments are a function of our incapacity. Eliot, in trying to make a distinction between baseless idealism, cynical nihilism, and realism, reveals the impossibility of such a distinction. Trollope too wants to say one thing but says another: he would like to show that his novels are modeled on social reality and reflect it; instead, he shows that they are a product of his imagination. Finally, for James, reading is not subject to the text as law but to the "thing" or "matter" to which the text itself Reviews311 is subject, to a law that is only nameable in one figure or another; and for Benjamin both die text and its translation are mistranslations of an original which can never be retrieved. Contradictions and paradoxes abound. The ediical moment of reading obeys the law of the ethics of reading but can never confront it direcdy. It manifests itself in the necessary reading of what is necessarily unreadable. Miller does more dian provide ingenious accounts of interesting texts and a suggestive exploration ofthe link between reading and moral law. For instance, he argues that ethics and storytelling are inseparable; he describes narrative as the deferral of a confrontation with the very law which narrative is supposed to exemplify; he shows the dependence ofrealism on catachresis; and he relates Trollope's obsessive writing of fiction to the novelist's attempt to produce a novel satisfying "his need for a written ascertained moral law" (p. 98). For all its virtues, Miller's enterprise is not quite successful. This is pardy due to his belief that he too must indefinitely postpone a direct meeting with the law of the ethics of reading. But there are other reasons for die partial failure. Thus, Miller claims that the stakes in getting the ethics of reading right are large; yet he does not make the stakes explicit. More importandy, perhaps, Miller is unable or unwilling to specify whether there are differences between the ethical import...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 310-311
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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