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364Philosophy and Literature Arguments ofAugustan Wit, by John Sitter; xiii & 188 pp. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991, $44.95. Notwithstanding a brief "boom" in English departments during the sixties, satire remains a comparatively undertheorized genre; John Sitter attempts to right this state ofaffairs in his recent and provocative study. His main contention is that satire has been repeatedly marginalized by the sorts of preoccupations which have largely prevailed in literary theory ever since the ascendancy of Romanticism in the late eighteenth century—preoccupations with imagination and individual subjectivity, or with formal aesthetic properties and a kind of "disembodied 'textuality' " (p. 2). The Augustan literature of wit produced in England between 1670 and 1740 offers a counterbalance to these biases, Sitter maintains, by virtue of its explicit concern with historical materiality. Sitter begins his argument with a survey ofthe "character progress" subgenre more or less peculiar to Augustan satire. The "progress" is distinguished from the Theophrastian character sketch in being less static, and from the novelistic literature of spiritual autobiography and individualism in being more linear and reductive. The character progress in Hogarth, Pope, Fielding, and (especially ) Swift reduces "sequence" to "consequence" (p. 13) and "identity" to "career" (p. 9) as it exposes the hackneyed thinking underlying the characters' fatal self-assertions. As Sitter puts it, "The act of individual rebellion is an act of illusory freedom" (p. 14). In this respect, the progress could be said to offer "a starker political analysis" than many of the novels and autobiographies commonly felt to be more realistic and "progressive" (p. 47). The second chapter examines Locke's famous dichotomy between wit and judgment as faculties of association (metaphor and allusion) and distinction (analysis), respectively, and argues that the dichotomy was by no means universally accepted even in the early part ofthe eighteenth century: bodi Addison and Prior explicidy challenged die doctrine in claiming that wit (or at least "true wit") performs both functions separated by Locke. Later in the century, however, the defense ofwit'sjudgment tended to assimilate it to "imagination" or "genius," and thus to "abstract" it (in Johnson's phrase) from language and writing, activities much emphasized in the definitions of Dryden, Pope, and Swift. The next two chapters proceed to define the Augustan satirists' "materialism" as a view that "the body is normative" (p. 95). From this perspective, what is wrong with modern politicians and economics, and much of modern science, is not that they are too materialistic, but that they reduce materialism to mindless mechanism through their abstractions. Here Sitter invokes Berkeley's "immaterialism " to show how the Augustans could accept "general ideas" while rejecting "abstract ideas" (pp. 143^45), the latter being ofno "real use" for human morality (p. 133). In Chapter 5 and the Conclusion, Sitter sets forth the consequences of his study for the interpretation of satire: tiiat "satire," like other Reviews365 genres, necessitates an assumption of intentionality (as Culler and others have recognized); and that referentiality is inescapable according to the intention posited of satire, and "need not be reducible to authorial or textual self-referentiality to count as literary" (p. 157). While welcoming Sitter's conclusions about the interpretation ofsatire, I often found his own interpretations to smack of special pleading. Take his claim that for Swift and Co. "the bodyis normative," and their "central philosophic concern is precisely the issue of misplaced . . . universality" (p. 170), which seems to suppress the Augustan obsession with "common Forms" of a decidedly abstracted sort, as appears, for example, in Swift's distinction between "Reason itself" and the "Reason of every particular Man" (PW 9. 166). And what does Sitter make of the universalized disgust implicit in the statement, "Who sees [Corinna] will spew; who smells be poison'd," and (I believe) in so much of Swift's scatology? Wide-ranging and frequendy witty in its own allusions, lucid in its exposition, Sitter's book is nevertheless an insightful and always intelligent contribution to eighteenth-centuryand satire studies, and eventoliterary theorymoregenerally. But at $45 for 190 pages, a prudent "materialism" is advised: unless you can wait for the book's price to come down, a borrower be. University of California, Santa BarbaraMichael Weber Family Secrets and the Psychoanalysis...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 364-365
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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