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368Philosophy and Literature This is to say that modern art serves primarily as a metaphor for the schizophrenic condition. Although the author also maintains that schizophrenia can provide important insights into modern aesthetics, this seems doubtful. If the volume has important implications for the treatment of mental illness, as a jacket blurb proclaims, scholars of modern art and literature will be disappointed . As J. H. Matthews points out in Surrealism, Insanity, and Poetry, diere is a vast difference between madness and the simulation of madness. Whereas painters and poets delight in exploring different states of consciousness, the mentally ill are unwilling victims of their condition. The distance between aesdietics and psychopathology is so great, the abyss that separates them so deep, that no artist has passed from one domain to the other willingly. Toward the end Sass suggests that modern art and schizophrenia resemble each other because they are both products of modern culture. To the contrary, I would argue that diese similarities exist primarily in the author's mind, which is able to "recognize"' them only because it has itself been shaped by modern culture. Illinois State UniversityWillard Bohn The Return ofThematic Criticism, edited by Werner Sollors; xxiii & 321 pp. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993, $34.50 cloth, $15.95 paper. TL· Return of Thematic Criticism is an odd, modey collection that does not manage to get to the bottom of its subject. In his introduction, Werner Sollors notes that "themes" in literature are rarely treated explicidy today: this procedure is linked to formalist schools ofcriticism that no longer convey authority. Yet, he contends, thematic approaches are in fact very common, particularly in race, class, and genderstudies, though practiced under the name ofa different heading or category than "theme." Sollors and his contributors thus seek to investigate anew the theory and practice of "thematics," examining and displaying a form of criticism that is, on the one hand, officially outmoded, yet, on the other, ingrained in scholarship and pedagogy. But while the idea that impels TL· Return of Thematic Criticism is intriguing, it is developed poorly. Sollors's Introduction is too short—only a dozen pages— and he follows it with an eighteen-page listing of quotations on "theme" from the Oxford English Dictionary to Robert Coover that he does not explicate or contextualize. The scanty, sketchy quality of his work is repeated in a number of the essays; Nancy Armstrong's genealogy of theme, David Perkins's commentary on themes in literary histories, Francesco Orlando's foray into the Reviews369 themes of realism, and Leon Somville's exploration of the thematics ofJeanPierre Richard, for example, all have promise but are too brief and superficial to offer real analytical rewards. Even more disappointing are the "short takes" that conclude the book; here, Leslie Fiedler, J. M. Coetzee, Raymond Trousson, Sander L. Gilman, Alexander Zholkovsky, and George Steiner supply just a paragraph or two of stray musings on what "theme" means to them. It is hard to see much merit in this. Other contributions are more substantial but uneven in quality. Michel Vanhelleputte 's "The Concept of Motifin Literature: A Terminological Study" and Marie-Laure Ryan's "In Search ofthe Narrative Theme" are slow, tedious pieces, laden withjargon. Far better are Harry Levin's keen scrutiny of Shakespeare's tiiemes, Lynn Wardley's sharp, sensitive tracing of the theme of the bachelor and the male bond in American literature, and Theodore Ziolkowski's intricate examination of Wagner's controversial, disturbing work, Parsifal. These essays show a rigor and depth of engagement with artists and texts that are missing elsewhere, and demonstrate how a carefully conducted, self-conscious thematic analysis can indeed open up and complicate literary, cultural, and artistic history. The essays by Levin, Wardley, and Ziolkowski reveal as well the kind of rich, suggestive book that TL· Return of Thematic Criticism might in general have become—a book of serious, sustained case-studies that would have made clear the interest and importance of its subject. But these essays are not enough to counter the bad effects of the weak introduction and the thinness of the work that the majority of the contributors have provided. Wellesley CollegeWilliam E. Cain Cultural Criticism, Literary...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 368-369
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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