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Reviews341 were elements (as McKusick puts it) "of an organized structure diat imposes mental categories on die external world" (p. 42). McKusick discusses Coleridge's interest in Descartes and Leibniz, and examines his Logic as a critique of pure understanding, which revised Kant's first critique in die light of linguistic dieory. McKusick shows how much more complex die concept of natural language was in Coleridge's criticism ofShakespeare than it had been in his early praise of Bowles's sonnets. Coleridge found in Shakespeare a harmony produced by "reciprocal disproportions" (p. 108) of rhetorical excess and ironic understatement . Paradoxically, naturalness might consist in die skillful deployment of such contrasts. Admitting ordinary human language to be arbitrary, Coleridge thought that Shakespeare succeeded in naturalizing arbitrary signs so diat they expressed not the "cold notion" but die "reality" of things (p. 110). McKusick considers mat die entire controversy between Wordsworth and Coleridge about the theory of poetry arose from dieir very different concepts of natural language. Following Hans Aarsleff and Coleridge, he holds mat for Wordsworth all signs were arbitrary and natural language was synonymous with ordinary language. But at diis crucial point in his argument McKusick misinterprets Wordsworth's Preface, writing of die poet's "doctrine of die identity ofpoetry and prose" (p. 1 13). Wordsworth's word is "affinity," not "identity." His contradistinction of poetry and matter of fact, diough overlooked by McKusick, is surely relevant, since, while ordinary language is used for matters of fact, Wordsworth stressed (in the Appendix to the Preface) that in maintaining mat ideas and feelings required one and die same language wheüier in prose or in verse, he referred only to "works of imagination and sentiment." If this language, but not anodier kind of prosaic discourse, could be, as Wordsworth said, natural, McKusick's view of die point at issue between die two poets is in need of correction. Universityof CanterburyGordon Spence New Zealand American Poetics ofHistory: From Emerson to the Moderns, by Joseph G. Kronick; xvi & 302 pp. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1984, $30.00. Historians have my sympadiy. At least such disciplines as philosophy and literature are not synonymous widi deadi. "He's history" is the ultimate dismissal in a society which, witii Huck, "don't take no stock in dead people." 342Philosophy and Literature Joseph G. Kronick's American Poetics ofHistory challenges this lively discipline to embrace a radically processual mediod of reading and writing history. To that end, he applies the ideas and terms of our most publicized literary and philosophical theorists — Harold Bloom, Jacques Derrida, Paul de Man, et al. — to die work of eight American audiors. Each, Kronick argues, developed a specific strategy to deal with the anxiety of living in a "belated" country where history means die past, Europe, tradition, linear genealogy, stasis — in a word, death. In so arguing, Kronick attacks die mainstream ofAmerican literary criticism which, he says, emphasizes voice, style, and die ahistorical quality of American literature. Kronick seizes a crucial issue, the American writer's obsession widi history, and he presents strong readings of major writers' strategies: Emerson and Thoreau on quotation and originality, Whitman's "self-reading," Adams's use and misuse of diermodynamics, Pound and translation, Williams's "metaphors of physical contact," Crane's bridge as "a trope for die power of language over history," and Stevens on die family. Kronick develops a formidable deconstructive argument, but in excruciating prose. Not only must die reader deal widi aporia, prosopopoeia, autotelic, syntagmatic, and so forth, but even such once familiar verbs as transform, resolve, and translate take on new and even fluid definitions. I do not fear theory, but I appreciate clarity. Despite some teeth-gnashing, die persistent reader gleans some rewards here, but die heavy dieory raises a more serious problem. According to some versions of deconstruction, every reading is a fiction, a transcription of ineffable reality which cannot be embodied in language. Kronick argues, for instance, diat Williams, like Nietzsche, recognized "that the two poles ofWestern dialectic, I and other, are grammatical functions, not ontological trudis" (p. 203). He teUs us that critic Paul Bové's Emerson is "a fiction, as every reading of Emerson must be...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 341-343
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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