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318Philosophy and Literature Philosophical Tales: An Essay on Philosophy and Literature, byJonathan Rèe; viii & 162 pp. New York: Methuen, 1987, $12.95 paper. One of the effects of the recent surge in literary theory has been to teach philosophers that they have another avenue ofapproach to the writings oftheir discipline. Unfortunately, philosophers have been slow to learn their lesson, perhaps because ofthe adversarial tone in which much literary theory is carried out. Philosophers, it seems, do not like to be taught their business by outsiders. It comes as a relief, therefore, to discover a philosopher who has made it his business to make the lessons of literary theory of philosophical interest. Philosophical Tales is about the stories which philosophers have told themselves in making sense of what they have been thinking and saying. It is about the stories ofits own past in which what is added to the work is seen to make sense. It is about the devices, particularly irony and metaphor, which inform philosophical writing and give it much of its impact. It is about narration and voice; about philosophical characters and authors real and implied, and about their readers, real and imagined. We are invited to peer behind the scenes of philosophical debate and argument to see into their figurai settings. Many of the texts discussed in the book have a "literary" look about them; for example, the writings of Montaigne, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche. Others do not and are normally discussed in odier contexts; for example, Descartes, Kant, Bentham, Hegel, and Mill. In each case the unorthodox perspective throws their writings into a new and interesting light. Though a short book, it is highly compressed and I can do no more than whet the reader's appetite for more. Consider two examples: Descartes's Meditations and Hegel's Phenomenology. The first is normally taken to be a mine of arguments establishing dualism, the existence of God, and so on. In Rée's book we are to take it seriously, instead, as philosophical autobiography. Rather than a set ofabstract and timeless propositions , the Meditations are bound to time and temporal relations. We must understand a double time, die time of the seeker of truth caught up in the search, and the time of that same seeker who has found the truth and is now in the process of communicating to us the path he took to get there. If we look at it like this, it is easier to understand Descartes's puzzlement over his readers' objections. His readers correcdy picked out what he had said but failed to see what he was doing with what he said. Descartes uses a fictional form to convey his sense of having discovered truth in philosophy. With Hegel's Phenomenology we need more help. In the Anglo-American tradition Hegel has hardly been considered but to be dismissed. Occasionally he is used as a repository of obscure remarks upon which we can draw to warn others of the dire effects of unbridled speculation. We are invited, instead, to see it as a journey story. We have our protagonist, Absolute Spirit, who sets off Reviews319 from home to see the world, prompdy gets lost and spends the rest ofthe book trying to find his way home. What we have is a proto-modernist novel which employs free indirect speech to impel us through the gallery of Spirit's forms in which we too, at last, will find ourselves. We are to be caught up in the story of Spirit's growth and identify with the characters who pass before us as truncated versions of the Spirit whose forms they are. If we consider the Phenomenology in this light, we may be less likely to misconstrue what Hegel is doing. The book is well-written, full of fascinating quotations, and fun. This last should not put off die serious minded. It is the height of art to take the most serious matters in playful fashion and a mistake to equate the useful widi the dull. At the end of the book, the author notes that ". . . as far as systematic application of literary theory to philosophy as a whole is concerned, everything remains...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 318-319
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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