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Literature and the Question of Philosophy, edited and introduced by Anthony J. Cascardi; xvii & 333 pp. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987, $29.50. Discussed by Michael Fischer However defined theoretically, literature and philosophy also designate two departments in most North American universities. The paths ofthese departments occasionally cross, say in a philosophy and literature course, then go their separate ways: toward logic, in the case of philosophy, and toward some variant of the still powerful New Criticism in literature departments, where poetry is considered as poetry and not as another thing. Combining literature and philosophy, or seeing them as always already intertwined, dius involves transgressing departmental boundaries and runs the risk of seeming dilettantish to those colleagues who remain within each discipline. Literature and the Question of Philosophy, an important collection of thirteen essays ably edited and introduced by AnthonyJ. Cascardi, presents the work of several philosophers willing to read literature along with, or as, philosophy. The volume also features essays by several literary scholars interested in taking on what are usually regarded as philosophical questions and texts. In this book, as in thejournal I am reviewing it for, contesting the boundaries between literature and philosophy takes many forms, some of them riskier and more promising than others. One reason for seeing philosophy as literature derives from our inability to separate the two — or so Peter McCormick argues in his "Philosophical Discourses and Fictional Texts." McCormick shows that neither speechact theory nor genre theory — or even some combination of the two — can 330 Michael Fischer331 establish what makes a text philosophical and not literary. McCormick's convincing analysis invites us to read "at least some philosophical texts with an eye to their fictional components" (p. 71), an invitation that Dalia Judovitz (in "Philosophy and Poetry: The Difference between Them in Plato and Descartes") and Harry Berger, Jr., (in "Levels of Discourse in Plato's Dialogues") readily accept. Plato and Descartes are appropriate objects — I could say victims — of such an analysis because both were of course bent on purging philosophy ofliterary qualities. In both writers literature returns notjust to haunt but to found the very texts that would exclude it. By "literature" Judovitz means such things as die dialogical format of Plato's works as well as the several metaphors, rhetorical figures, and fables at work in both Plato and Descartes. Even the latter's hyperbolic doubt, for example, uneasily depends on die rhetorical figure of hyperbole. For Berger "literature" implies textuality, a "level" of Plato's discourse that Berger wishes to distinguish from the "dramatic" and die "thematic." Berger credits commentators like Paul Friedländer, Leo Strauss, and Stanley Rosen for attending to die dramatic structure of Plato's work, thereby seeing Socrates and his various interlocutors as characters in a dialogue, not as direct spokesmen for Plato. Aldiough advancing beyond a merely thematic or "ventriloquist" approach to Plato, these scholars, however, in different ways still claim to "recuperate die presence of the author [Plato] and to arrive at knowledge of his 'teaching" (p. 94). As in the New Criticism, dramatistic considerations complicate, but do not finally subvert, a mimetic view. By appealing to the open-ended textuality ofPlato's works, Berger wants to block die "moudipiece" approach in boüi its forms — dramatic and thematic — in order to highlight what he sees as "a central theme of Platonic discourse, namely, die structural inadequacy and ediical dangers inherent in any mediod ofteaching, and indeed in any institution — whemer educational, political, social, or more broadly cultural — committed to die dramatic or logocentric level of discourse and grounded in the speaking presence of institutional actors" (p. 96). Widiin this general critique, Berger finds in Plato "an especially pointed and poignant critique of Socratic mediod and die Socratic presence" (p. 96) uiat previous readers have obscured. Not surprisingly, Derrida figures prominently in all diree of die essays that I have been discussing. (Roland Bardies plays a comparable role in anodier essay in die volume, Mary Bittner Wiseman's "Rewriting die Self: Bardies and die Utopias of Language," an intelligent, but strained, attempt to demonstrate diat die later Bardies shows die way from 332Philosophy and Literature established opinion to "utopias of language.") McCormick...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 330-339
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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