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Reviews359 The Challenge ofComparative Literature, by Claudio Guillen; translated by Cola Franzen; ? & 450 pp. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993, $19.50 paper. The challenge of Claudio Guillen's magisterial book comes in three related parts. First is an elegantly theorized history of comparative literature as a discipline, from the visionary ideals ofFrench and German Romanticism to the technical formulations of recent structuralisms. Eleven brief chapters sketch recurrent issues in this history ofwit and insight. Second are five long chapters of a richly historicized theory of literature, elaborating the most distinctive concepts of criticism that emerge from the history of the discipline. The concepts of genre, form, theme, intemationality, and history are developed with an admirable subtlety and a remarkable range of examples. Third is over one-hundred pages of reference apparatus—notes, bibliography, and index— for the text. Such roots of scholarly writing are usually not mentioned in a review, but in this case they quite visibly support the substantial trunk and branches of the argument. Like Northrop Frye's Anatomy ofCriticism of 1957 and Guillen's own Literature as System of 1971, The Challenge of Comparative Literature is a poetics, a kind of literary criticism about which Guillen himself has written with great insight. A poetics is a system (or "polysystem," to use a term he now prefers) of genres, virtual and evolving, within which authors frame their intentions and readers shape their expectations—and have them unsettled. Guillen presents the primary genres of literary study, the kinds of literary criticism practiced in various parts of the world, particularly by comparatists, during the last two centuries, even as he argues for the centrality of genres, countergenres, and related constellations of form and theme in the production and consumption of literature itself over the ages. Unlike Frye's system, which as Guillen points out (p. 238) is mythic and preoccupied with unity, Guillen's is deeply historical and broadly open to the diversity of literary particulars. Examples from Spanish literature, especially Peninsular, abound, but all the European and American literatures are well represented in the examples and case histories that Guillen adduces in elaborating the schemes of literary ordering. He makes a special case for the importance of recovering today the literatures of Eastern Europe, for discerning pre-Columbian American literature, especially as it informs the Latin American, for recognizing the challenge to premature theorizing presented by the literatures of China and other East Asian traditions, for noting the protean diversity of Hebrew poetry as it passes through the literary history of Europe. Guillen draws on first-hand knowledge and first-rate scholarship to weave a richly detailed and specific account of the way poets, novelists, dramatists— even theorists—put flesh on the bones of the polysystem of literature in the course of its historical transformations. He pays welcome attention to oral 360Philosophy and Literature literature as well as written. His account of the importance of parallelism in poetry is a brilliant miniature ofhis procedure, beginning withJakobson'swellknown thesis and extending for some ten pages through Hopkins, the Russian byliny, the Castilian romancero, noting Provencal, biblical Hebrew, Ch'i and Lian dynasty Chinese, Sumerian, and Náhuatl examples, then circling back to the modern era with Saint-John Perse, Vicente Aleixandre, and Walt Whitman. As evidenced in his equally generous, informed treatment of poetry and the novel, of European and non-European literature, of literary practice and literary theory, we find ourselves with Guillen well above the level of the parochial skirmishes in the ongoing "Battle of the Books" or Querelle des anciens et des modernes that usually pass for literary criticism. At the same time, we are not left with what Guillen calls "a theory of the literature of the moon" (p. 83), a sterile essentialism remote from the prolific varieties of literary experience. This is an immensely informative study of literature and a deeply knowledgeable vision of a discipline. It is also a work of genuine wisdom, the kind of learning tiiat only a long and distinguished career can produce. Literary criticism is greatly enriched by Guillen's challenge. Emory UniversityWalter L. Reed Back to the Rough Ground: Phronesis andTechne in Modern Philosophy and in Aristotle, byJoseph Dunne; xvi...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 359-360
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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