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Reviews183 Literary Knowledge: Humanistic Inquiry and the Philosophy ofScience, by Paisley Livingston; ix & 276 pp. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988, $29.95. Science, literary theorists often tell us, isjust rhetoric. This is why we should refuse to take it as an authority in our lives, and why we should always be sure to approach it with a fair measure of skepticism. On this view, "if progress in literary criticism is a dubious matter, so is diat ofscience" (p. 4), and we certainly should not make the mistake of privileging the findings of science. A large part of this book aims to challenge "this dogmatism," to explain what science is (and is not) in a way that reopens the dialogue between literary theory and the western scientific tradition. "Literary theory," the author believes, "should seek to clarify the relations between literary research and other models of knowledge" (p. 5). With this end in mind, Livingston proceeds in the first part of die book to explain the role of theory in the study ofliterature, arguing that theory ought to play an epistemological role, and that in this way it should ideally enable us to grasp the connection between scientific models ofknowledge and literary research (pp. 9—31). But literary theory has become riddled with all sorts of fashionable doubts about science and epistemology. Happily, Livingston resists the trend, and argues in a lively and informed way against the skepticisms of our age. In the second part of the book, he argues against the institutional approach to knowledge that has characterized the so-called sociological turn, and he advances fierce and cogent criticisms of a variety of different relativisms (pp. 38—79). His goal is to defend a reasonable and moderate scientific realism (pp. 80—110), although it must be said that his defense is not entirely unproblematic and certainly is not as laudable as his goal. The book changes direction somewhat in the third part. Here Livingston is concerned to argue against the view thatthere mustbe a fundamental difference between the natural and the human sciences. He canvasses and criticizes some arguments for this, notably those of Wittgenstein (pp. 154-76), in order to show, quite convincingly, that they do not establish any such cleavage. On his view, it is entirely reasonable to suppose that an endeavor which has been as successful as the natural sciences should have some contribution to make to the Geisteswissenschaften. Finally, Livingston attempts to show what bearing the success of the natural sciences has on what he designates as the primary question in literary theory— the question, namely, of validity in interpretation. His view is that critical research "sometimes manifests a rudimentary explanatory pattern that is similar, in its most basic form, to scientific explanations" but that the entire debate on this issue has reached an impasse, and has done so because of a failure to incorporate fully the lessons of natural science. This has occurred, he thinks, 184Philosophy and Literature "because globally, these [critical] research efforts are not part of an explanatory structure at all" (p. 239). In all this is a lively and interesting book which helps redress some of the prejudices against science which currendy prevail in literary circles. Livingston does much to debunk the "fuzziness," the dogmatism, and the unthinking allegiance to fashion that increasingly characterizes a good deal of what passes for literary theory. University of Canterbury, New ZealandDavid Novitz Criticism in Society: Interviews withJacques Derrida, Northrop Frye, Harold Bloom, Geoffrey Hartman, Frank Kermode , Edward Said, Barbara Johnson, Frank Lentricchia, andJ. Hillis Miller, by Imre Salusinszky; xii & 244 pp. New York: Methuen, 1987, $14.95 paper. Have you ever wanted to ask Derrida how deconstruction might be taught in high schools, or the author of The Great Code what he thought of Jewish literary criticism? While, happily (or unhappily), these are not the most important questions in this book, they do emerge from a persistent focus on the one self-conscious issue which literary criticism has always found problematic— its cultural significance, its relationship to political power. The importance of this issue in these times of professional stress, when humanities departments are beleaguered from both within and without, is unquestionable. And these interviews display...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 183-184
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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