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Reviews387 As Sinclair-Stevenson says in his preface, writers like Vizinczey, who "strip away the emperor's new clothes," are seldom popular (p. vii). Though one may not always agree with Vizinczey, his position is clear: because life and art are intertwining entities we should take the time to question the impact they have on one another. Purdue UniversityShelley Purcell Language and Literature, by Roman Jakobson, edited by Krystyna Pomorska and Stephen Rudy; 548 pp. Cambridge : Harvard University Press, 1987, $25.00. This is the second Jakobson collection to appear since his death. In 1985 Krystyna Pomorska and Stephen Rudy published Verbal Art, Verbal Sign, Verbal Time. Much of the same material appears again in Language and Hterature. But the overlap is excused by the quality of the pieces concerned: the manifesto "Problems in the study oflanguage and literature" drawn up byJackobson and Tynjanov in 1928, Jakobson's biting commentary on Soviet reactions to Majakovskij's suicide in "On a generation that squandered its poet," and his minute and fascinating dissections of the verbal art of Pushkin, Xlebnikov, and Yeats. Language and Literature is the larger of the two collections, containing 29 papers classified under four headings: "Questions of Literary Theory," "Grammar in Poetry," "Writer, Biography, Myth," and "Semiotic Vistas." One is amazed at the breadth of knowledge and the depth of reflection that Jakobson brings to bear on any topic, without ever using his learning merely to impress. Almost every piece leaves the reader with an urge to find out more, whether it is about Baudelaire, Russian formalism, or the different gestures for "yes" and "no" used in different parts of Europe. Several essays appear here in English for the first time, including ones on Turgenev's curious reaction to the stuffiness of a London club and on the nineteendi-century Czech writer Hanka, who concocted two bogus medieval epic poems which, before the fraud was discovered , served as a springboard for the development of die contemporary Czech literary language. But die most characteristically Jakobsonian pieces are the structural analyses of individual poems by not only Pushkin and Yeats but also Poe, Shakespeare, Blake, and the painters Rousseau and Klee. For the philosopher of art or science there is plenty here to ponder. The very phrase "characteristically Jakobsonian" signals unease about Jakobson's most fundamental claim. He believed that "literary and linguistic studies" are material for "a systematic science," and should not be treated in "episodic and 388Philosophy and Literature anecdotal" fashion (p. 47); furthermore, poetics is "part of linguistics" (p. 72). Buta hallmark ofany science (manywould say) is a framework ofgeneralizations which sets bounds on what can and cannot happen in some domain of experience . DoesJakobson's poetics fit that description? Basic principles throughout his work are parallelism and binarity, which not only dominate his analyses of individual texts but pervade the rest of his terminological apparatus. Thus, the contrast between the paradigmatic and syntagmatic dimensions of language parallels those between metaphor and metonymy and between similarity and contiguity disorders in aphasia; similarly, the contrast between visual and auditory perception parallels that between icons or indexes on the one hand and symbols on the other (which is why, he says, many people are upset by abstract art but no one minds nonrepresentational music). All this is extraordinarily ingenious, but does it set bounds on what can and cannot happen in art? There is something uncomfortably arbitrary about the precise implementation of Jakobson's basic notions in his analysis of any individual text; at the same time, the choice of texts for analysis seems not quite arbitrary enough to provide a real test for his purportedly scientific poetics. Perhaps this unease is ill-founded, and by following Jakobson's example we really can do poetics scientifically. But, if the unease is well-founded, there are two possible reactions. Maybe Jakobson was wrong to try to bring literary and linguistic studies together under one science, because literary studies are intrinsically unscientific; or maybe he was right, and the fault lies with those who try to force the study of language into the hypothetico-deductive mold of physics. For anyone concerned with such problems, Jakobson's work is of interest precisely...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 387-388
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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