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Reviews415 The Observing Self: Rediscovering the Essay, by Graham Good; xv & 208 pp. New York: Roudedge, 1988, $55.00 cloth, $13.95 paper. This book seeks "to renew interest in the essay as aform" (p. ix); it comprises a "historico-philosophical" introduction and a series of studies of individual essayists: Montaigne, Bacon, Johnson, Hazlitt, Henry James, Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, and George Orwell. The essay needs to be "rediscovered," Good maintains, because there is a tendency to think of it as either a mere school exercise or a genteel Edwardian genre without relevance to our current situation . Good argues that the essay remains a privileged mode of resistance to "systems" of all kinds, and "as such it is vital to our educational, cultural, and political health" (p. 186). Following Lukacs and Adorno, Good insists on the way the essayist lets his treatment of an object develop freely, without imposing any predetermined form upon it. But whereas they "seek to construct a subjectivized object in which the object is central and the subject simply refracts aspects of it," Good gives "the subjective aspect of the essay equal prominence" (p. 21). "In the essay, the identity of neidier self nor object is predetermined. Both are changeable , and take a particular shape in conjunction, in configuration, with each other" (pp. 22—23). Good's psychologizing modification of Lukács's and Adorno's thesis is crucial: it shifts the emphasis from the individual as such to the ("observing") Self—that is, to a transcendental subject ("the mixture of elements in the essay . . . can only be held together by the concept of self," p. 8) and a personality—and tiius makes it much more congenial to the British essay tradition. Good is surely correct in stressing the essay's connection with individual experience and with die particular, though he seems to underestimate the extent to which essays (Montaigne's, for instance, and often Bacon's as well) begin with general assertions and then undermine them by reference to particulars. He does so, I think, because he is at pains to ground the essay not in its relation to other discourses but rather in what he calls "the natural form of thought" (p. 42), an "unprejudiced awareness" that is supposed to exist "outside any organization of knowledge" (p. 4). Good believes that one must accept such claims in order to establish the critical value of the essay's particularism and to ward off the menace of antifoundationalist "textualism." There is ample room for disagreement concerning this last point and the critique of "textualism" in the final chapter, which seems to me to offer a radier trite caricature of deconstruction while overlooking the very significant contributions to the renewal of the essay form made by "textualists" such as Roland Barthes. There can be litde doubt that most essayists do claim to present their experience unframed by disciplines or codes, but diis does not necessarily mean 416Philosophy and Literature that the latter in fact play no role in shaping what they write. Nor is it clear that this is the crucial question in the epistemology of the essay. A more fruitful approach to this problem might well be through recent studies (such as those of the Italian historian Carlo Ginzburg) exploring an alternative model of knowledge of and through the individual—and whose suppression by the Galilean model is coeval with the rise of essay as a form. This would have the advantage of foregrounding the importance of the particular and the detail without making the foundationalist assumptions mentioned in the preceding paragraph. Despite these reservations, I find Good's discussion of the general features of essay-writing stimulating. The chapters on individual essayists are sensitive and often original, especially when he turns his attention to authors like Samuel Johnson, whose works in this genre are less well known. All in all, this is an excellent study ofthe essay which should be read with care by anyone interested in the subject. University of OregonSteven Rendall Heidegger's Language and Thinking, by Robert Mugerauer; xiv & 278 pp. Adantic Highlands, NewJersey: Humanities Press, 1988, $49.95. Language is ofcentral importance to Heidegger's thought. Robert Mugerauer does not, however, aim...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 415-416
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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