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Reviews393 words like "discriminateness" (p. 64) and "redialecticize" (p. 97). Moreover, from the onset, serious questions about the quality of this study arise, when the author admits (p. xii) that the English translations of quoted passages are taken from the notoriously unsatisfactory Kilmartin revision of the Scott Moncrieff translation of Proust—an erratic revision described by Bowie as "magnificent " (p. 195). A view of theory as fiction is as intriguing as it is inevitable in an era when even history is seen as fiction, but this collection of papers and lectures does not live up to the promise of its tide. As Bowie himself remarks of unspecified others (p. 5), "much undoubtedly strenuous labour . . . has had a low intellectual yield." University of TennesseePatrick Brady Framing the Sign: Criticism andIts Institutions, byJonathan Culler; xi & 237 pp. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989, $29.50. Jonathan Culler has written cogent, influential studies of Gustave Flaubert, Roland Barthes, Ferdinand de Saussure, structuralism, and deconstruction, but Framingthe Sign is in key respects superior to these earlier books. It demonstrates once again Culler's skills as an explicator of literary dieories and texts, yet it also displays a new attentiveness on his part to the larger social, political, and cultural contexts ofcriticism. Culler shows impressive range in Framing the Sign, moving adroidy from literature to a number of other disciplines and areas of inquiry, and he keenly explores important, often complex and controversial issues in admirably lucid, forceful prose. In Part I, Culler provides a valuable survey of the emergence and development of criticism in the university, scrutinizes E. D. Hirsch's proposal for a renewal of"cultural literacy," skeptically replies to fervent advocates (e.g., Terry Eagleton) ofahistoricalapproachtoliterature, and staunchlycalls for a sustained critique of the role of religion in American society and culture. In Part II, which includes revaluations of William Empson, Gaston Bachelard, and Paul de Man, Culler narrows his frame ofreference somewhat, but he is nevertheless consistendy subde and suggestive, above all in his deft, highly informed commentary on the tone and timbre of the rhetorical strategies that his chosen critics employ. Parts III and IV of Framing the Sign are also rewarding and, in some cases, quite witty, inventive, and adventurous in the sorts ofinstitutional and discursive problems that they highlight. Part III contains briskly conducted essays on 394Philosophy and Literature deconstruction and the law, the semiotics oftourism, and rubbish theory (which treats the peculiar ifinescapable category ofmarginal, transient, discarded, and junky objects). Part IV, which surveys Habermas's theory of language, investigates recent work in the theory of fiction, and queries the prospects for a linguistics of writing, is perhaps not quite as eye-catchingly novel as Part III. But in its own way, it, too, offers insightful analysis, most notably in Culler's discussion of the sex of narrative voices and the politics of reading. The only essay that misfires in this excellent book is the one that Culler devotes to an aggressive challenge of religion in America. Beginning with a defense of Empson's anti-Christian polemic, Milton's God, Culler moves quickly to indict the sovereign place of"religious discourse," which, he contends, enjoys "extraordinary protection"; "there is practically no public anti-religious discourse " (p. 77). Such widespread support for religion has, in Culler's view, badly limited the kind ofresourceful, open inquiry into conventionally accepted ideas and values that education at its best ought to foster. This is, to be sure, a provocative claim, and conceivably a brave cultural critic might succeed in articulating the manner in which religion has curtailed criticism. But Culler's essay is far too loosely—indeed, carelessly—argued to advance such a case convincingly. He treats religion as an undifferentiated mass—is right-wing fundamentalism to be equated with liberation theology?—and seems oddly unaware of, or unwilling even to consider, what serious religious commitment might entail. Culler's method of argument in his essay on religion baffles me, and I wish he had not included it—at least not in its current form—in his book. But it does have the unintended effect of dramatizing by contrast the virtues of carefully crafted argument and enlightening, sharply focused critique that distinguish...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 393-394
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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