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Reviews219 notion of the "unheimlich" to ground some recurring themes in Victorian literature (pp. 81-82), to set up his discussion of Dickens in a chapter called "The Intentional Phallus in Dickens and Hardy" (a lit-crit pun recycled from his 1977 essay), and to develop an illuminating paradigm for Sendak's Outside Over TL·™ (p. 209). Steig is at his best when discovering—what seems to interest him most—"veiled eroticism" (p. 95). And so, while it may well be that "personal associations" are a valid component of Steig's model (p. 34), we should all be glad he spared us his grocery lists. Vanderbilt UniversityWilliam E. Engel Poetic Interaction: Language, Freedom, Reason, by John McCumber; xiv & 489 pp. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989, $60.00 cloth, $24.95 paper. Poetic Interaction is an ambitious defense not of poetry but of freedom, the centerpiece of the subtitle. Through detailed analysis of a small number of carefully selected works spanning the history of Western thought, McCumber narrates the familiar story ofa paradise lost and (almost) regained. The Palinode of Plato's Phaedrus was "philosophy's original presentation ofintrinsically emancipatory [poetic] interaction" (p. 167). But the lesson of the Palinode was "occluded " by a foundational metaphysics beginning with Aristotle and with Plato himself until at last the significance of such "poetic" interaction was again gradually recognized and hesitatingly thematized in works such as Kant's Critique ofJudgment, Hegel's Aesthetics, Heidegger's "The Origin of a Work of Art" and "From a Dialogue on Language," and Habermas's TL· T^ry ofCommunicative Action. McCumber's argument is intricate, cogent, and usually persuasive on particular issues. His perceptive discussion and practice of what he calls analysis, narrative, and demarcation make this book an important contribution to our understanding of the broad implications of the current debate over the relationship between the domains of poetry and politics. On the overriding issue of "intrinsically emancipatory interaction," however, McCumber's position is less certain. As long as he is content to argue his case for the inclusion rather than the occlusion of this question within the scope of philosophical dialogue, he remains convincing. But when he assumes the stance of the believer, and expects his reader to do likewise, then McCumber tends to harden his "interactionist " position and to weaken his argument. Whether one believes (in poetic interaction) is not as clear-cut an issue as McCumber indicates, for instance, in 220Philosophy and Literature the following: "unless the reader . . . finds the description ofthe soul's experience in the Palinode to be similar enough to experience he himself has had . . . the entire myth fails to be anything more than a pretty story. . . . The portrayal of the love affair ... is to be verified by the reader in die light of his own personal experiences. . . . The fact that [the Palinode] is read and admired millennia after its completion testifies that many, if not all, human beings have indeed found its portrayal to be verified in their own experiences" (p. 189). While the author correcdy understands that our experiences influence our judgment on this matter, he incorrecdy assumes that the case rests here. At final issue is notjust die question of belief and personal experience but rather the idea of eros that guides McCumber's entire project. For the paradigmatic instance of McCumber's notion of poetic interaction is indeed the interaction of Plato's "loving couple" (p. 192) in the Palinode. And this relationship appears to embody the very metaphysics that McCumber claims to oppose. Not only is it overtly organicist in its appeals to harmony and wholeness (pp. 186, 188), this love between men also ignores the question ofsexual difference or feminine eros and suggests, through the unequal ages of the partners, a benign transmission of influence that circumvents temporal difference. Despite his repeated endorsement of "truly heterogeneous forms of human interaction" (p. 426), McCumber's overall idea of heterogeneity is itself inadequate . Differences are absorbed into the "closed system of mutual mirroring" (p. 186) of the loving couple. Master/slave differences are resolved into a loving dialectics (p. 238). The questionable idea of a "life-world" is linked to an even more questionable idea of nature...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 219-220
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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