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Reviews381 is right to say not only that Emerson here encounters his ineluctable relatedness to others but that this relatedness poses a problem. This insight makes his book a major contribution to Emerson studies. But I would put Emerson's problem differendy. As a reader, he struggles not simply with knowing another selfbut with acknowledging what he already knows. As a writer, he fights notjust the anxiety ofremaining unknown but his own terror ofexposure, his fear ofbeing found out. University of New MexicoMrcHAEL Fischer Social Values and Poetic Acts, by Jerome J. McGann; xii & 279 pp. Cambridge; Harvard University Press, 1988, $27.50. Literary studies are in a parlous state indeed when a critic as thoughtful and experienced as Jerome McGann can find no greater value in the "four great modes" ofcriticism he champions—historicism, formalism, deconstruction, and Marxism—than that they "represent, and themselves enact, programmatic goals which simultaneously display their own insufficiencies, alienations, self-contradictions " (p. 1 14). McGann undoubtedly wishes to give new legitimation to literary studies through his "dialectical" criticism. But, starting with de Mannian, deconstructionist, and Marxist assumptions, and preoccupied with the contemporary shapes assumed by literary-critical issues, he appears to accept the not uncommon notion that poststructuralist (revisionist) theory invalidates all other critical insights. The fact is that Grice, Hirsch, Frege, Graff, Krieger, Pater, and Arnold in particular have quite useful things to say about the relations between texts, reality, and readers with which McGann concerns himself. McGann reemphasizes his centrally de Mannian assumptions in passages like the following: "De Man shows that every hermeneutic move—whether a local interpretive act performed on a particular passage or a more general set of propositions defining the structure of a method or of a theory—is fated, as it were, to replicate the dialectic of blindness and insight. As the meanings are deployed and the orders set forth, a corresponding network of darknesses begins to grow as well: the fault lines and errors which are the correspondent breeze (or desert simoom) of all we believe to be stable and true" (p. 99). If this passage means that no depiction of or statement about the world can be sufficiendy inclusive to encompass the complexity ofexistence, or that complete and precise transmission of the emotional and intellectual contents of a single mind to another mind is an unattainable goal, it is a simple truism, but if it means that reasonably accurate communication of thoughts, feelings, and in- 382Philosophy and Literature tentions is impossible, it seals the texts from the world in which McGann wishes it to have value. Constandy working against McGann's theoretical project is his reluctance to come to terms with the question of the intention of the author. He sees no need to differentiate between meanings an author may reasonablybe presumed to have intended and those meanings (or, in Hirschean terms, significances) that readers, especially readers of a later period, find in the text as they read it in the light of their own preoccupations. But literature can hardly be a social, communicative act unless communication of intended meaning is possible. The most interesting sections of Social Values and Poetic Acts are the argument that the variant forms in which Blake's Urizen appeared mirror the formation of the Bible as explained by Alexander Geddes and the analysis of the relation between the circumstances of the original publication of "Sohrab and Rustum" and Arnold's theory of poetry. In both cases, the author's intention is central to McGann's analysis, though his explicit theoretical assumptions seem to leave litde room for consideration of authorial intention. At the same time, he champions Gabler's edition of Joyce's Ulysses precisely because it "destabilizes" the text of the work. But if that edition "does not give us the work which Joyce wanted to present to the public" but "a text in which we may observe Joyce at work, alone, before he turns to meet his public" (p. 181), the communicative intent of the author has been subverted. McGann is especially fond of the terms "incommensurability" and "deploy." One might say that this book demonstrates the incommensurability of the poststructuralist axioms McGann accepts to the defense ofpoetry...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 381-382
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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