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392Philosophy and Literature sometimes make his interpretation resemble a "system" of the very sort his reading warns against. At the same time, though, he can be persuasively astute when tracing the parodie presence of opponent texts in Voltaire's: Fontenelle, Pascal, Rousseau, and (in several of the late contes) various books of the Bible. Above all, Pearson succeeds in showing that these fictions are at once better as contes and more genuinely philosophiques than critical commonplace has allowed . University of California, Santa BarbaraMichaelJ. Weber Chatter: Language and History in Kierkegaard, by Peter Fenves; xii & 312 pp. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993, $42.50 cloth, $15.95 paper. It is with considerable "fear and trembling" that I undertake to review this book, since according to the literary theory elaborated in it a reviewer must undergo death, eradicating any reference to his/her "lived experience," as a fundamental condition of writing if one is to avoid falling into "chatter" or insignificant speech. By this measure, I have already failed the test. So let us (although there is no "us" to which that word refers—it is merely a name, a selfreferential term) , {1} repeat, let "us" begin again. No one is writing this review. Itjust happens. The occasion of this happening is the arrival of the book at no one's doorstep—a purely accidental event, given the repeated unreliability of the postal service where no one lives. But since no one, including the nobody who is not writing this review, cannot not speak (since even silence is a negative form of communication) , there is no way to avoid falling into the original sin of chatter. All language is chatter. All history is chatter. "We" cannot defend "ourselves" against it, although Kierkegaard tried valiantly but failed and ended up capitulating to it. What is chatter? According to the author's definition, which is a reinscription of Kierkegaard's, chatter is a negativity far more corrosive than irony—which itself is defined by Kierkegaard (after Hegel) as "absolute infinite negativity" (not "absolute subjective negativity" as the author misstates him)—for in this mode of negativity "all points ofview, all reference points, do not vanish into a nonconceptual, 'existential' nothingness but fail to disappear" (pp. 54—55). Persisting as empty speech, chatter suspends all disjunctive judgments, all "either-ors," in a blurring of distinctions between significant and insignificant speech, direct and indirect communication, language and self, concept and phenomenon, objectivity and subjectivity, the sacred and the profane. If the author is right, postmodernism, which one might propose as another "name" Reviews393 for chatter, has won, indeed, has always already won. The only option left, he claims, is to capitulate to it—but not, this nonanonymous reviewer would suggest, in the manner proposed by the author, who anticipates in and through chatter an "authentic" (an utterly unpostmodern notion!) future in which undecidability, "neither-nor," would "define" (another unpostmodern word) the character of that time, which would be a future without presence or the present (pp. 243-44). (Somehow, "I" fail to catch the distinction between this future and the present [postmodern] age, or is there one?) Rather, in the spirit of chatter, the strategy should be to remove "again and again the intimate underpinning of . . . [postmodernism's own] slogans" (p. 240), crossing them out with the substitution of that which is upbuilding and constructive, rather than destructive, in human life. But that is a topic for another book and literary review. Let "us" stick here to the one in hand. According to Kierkegaard, the law regulating poetic production is that "ideality is the equilibrium of opposites." In keeping with this law, let me turn now to a proper description and assessment of this book. Chatter is a very sophisticated, even brilliant, attempt to elaborate a postmodern theory of language and literature on the basis of a postmodernist rereading of five texts of Kierkegaard: From the Papers of One Still Living, TL· Concept of Anxiety, Philosophical Fragments, Fear and Trembling, and Two Ages: A Literary Review. Focusing on the concept of chatter (a term that does not appear in the index to any of the English translations of these works), the author's interpretation (which, by the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 392-393
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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