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THE COMPLEXITIES OF CONTRADICTION by Wendell V. Harris Brian Caraher's idea of a volume treating the concept of contradiction is undoubtedly timely, and although I find myself being more critical of the resulting collection than I could wish, any discussion that stimulates a rethinking of the role of contradiction in human thought is in itself a service. So much literary criticism and theory have been derived from Derridean perceptions of the necessary contradictions of human discourse that a rethinking of the meaning—rather, the several meanings—of contradiction is much needed. One would hope that such an airing would suggest ways of getting beyond the poststructuralist night in which all propositions are alike indeterminate— except, of course, the proposition that the meanings of all propositions are indeterminate, the privileging of which proposition is presumed to undermine the possibility ofprivileging anything, a typical contradiction of the kind that has so wide an appeal at the present time. Caraher states the main idea of the volume as that "contradiction should be taken as a basic literary and philosophical concept and as such it indicates the conflicted and conflictual nature of philosophical thinking, aesthetic experience, and literary language. Contradiction does not cancel, undermine , or paralyze cognition and discourse but, instead, helps to Intimate Conflict: Contradiction in Literary and Phihsophical Discourse, edited by Brian G. Caraher; xi & 208 pp. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992, $14.95 paper. Philosophy and Literature, © 1993, 17: 333-342 334Philosophy and Literature constitute these activities in intriguing and sometimes disturbing perplexity " (p. 1). Setting aside the fashionable revival of "conflicted" (Caraher is also capable of "contexted"), this is a promising goal. Unfortunately , we never arrive there; in particular, the reader is left to wonder in what sense contradiction may be said to "constitute" cognition and discourse. Despite the efforts of the editor's introduction, the volume appears to be more a miscellaneous set of essays dealing with one or another of the senses of contradiction—and appealing to rather different audiences, I should think—than a coherent collection. The sense of contradiction as "intimate conflict" that Caraher wishes "to place in discursive circulation" never clearly emerges. Since the raüon d'être for the volume and the statement of the most general issues associated with the concept of contradiction appear in the introduction, I will concentrate on it. However, before doing so, I should say that I have no reservations about the value of any one of the essays in itself. Henry Johnstone's "Strife and Contradiction in Hesiod" reminds us of a meaning of contradiction that tends to get lost elsewhere in the volume: statements emanating from different sources the conflict between which cannot but cause the hearer to believe that at least one statement is untrue and probably the result of a lie. Charles Altieri's "Plato's Masterplot: Idealization, Contradiction, and the Transformation ofRhetorical Ethos" does in fact delineate a mode of thought in which contradictions are made to lead beyond themselves, although not altogether in the sense Caraher seems to suggest by his phrase "intimate conflict." Altieri's is a difficult, highly abstract essay that applies the concept of "self-subsumption" to Plato's mode of argument; the kind of rhetoric it sets out creates an adherence to certain values intended to subsume the contradictions. Mili N. Clark's "The Mechanics of Creation: Non-Contradiction and Natural Necessity in Paradise Lost" addresses the contradiction of the description of humankind as "Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall." In essence, evil is found to be the result of the noncontradictoriness in God: he cannot create what is equal to himself nor uncreate that which he has created. Mark Shell's "Money of the Mind: Dialectic and Monetary Form in Kant and Hegel" treats the ways in which philosophical oppositions have been thought in the forms ofmisleading economic relationships. Brian Caraher's own contribution seeks to revive I. A. Richards's understanding ofmetaphor as "a borrowing between and intercourse of thoughts, a transaction between contexts" (p. 159)1 as opposed to a view of metaphor as simply an image or figure that suggests a thought. Caraher's emphasis is highly Wendell V. Harris335...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 333-342
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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