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324Philosophy and Literature More apropos of the central argument is his discussion of the recent theoretical assaults on traditional criticism and literature. On the whole, this is nutritious reading. Especially piquant is the case of Paul de Man, the theorist so influential in his insistence on the gulf between reality and language, yet a man so inextricably chained to his own language ofNazi sympathy—all ofwhich gives off a strong odor of the latent fatuosity of deconstruction. As one reads, it becomes increasingly mystifying as to why Professor Kernan accords this theory such potency that it "swept literature before it" (p. 80). In an odd way, a reader of this book is constantly nudged into lurking just outside the text and muttering and mulling counter-arguments. This at least means that the text is not moribund. In my own lurking I came to suspect that much of structuralism and deconstruction is suspiciously like the work of philosophers who have sallied forth to milk Johnson's bull. The prompting of common sense suggests that humanity, indifferent to the hectic posturing of academic critics, will continue to find vitality and redemption in Shakespeare, Milton, and all others who offer necessary nourishment. Literature will go on playing its role in human society regardless of all this frenetic labor to convert Academe into a negligible ghetto. Old or new (I muttered), literature will survive the agon ofepistemology and the rising and declining of any number ofcritical fevers. Professor Kernan's dismal threnody, "the death of the old literature" (p. 209); "the old literature is gone" (p. 21 1); the age of reading is dead, etc., comes finally to resemble the exaggerated report of Mark Twain's death. Whitman CollegeWalter E. Broman French Romanticism: Intertextual and Interdisciplinary Readings, by Frank Paul Bowman; xii & 243 pp. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990. $29.50. This is a book written unabashedly for experts. For those who do not know as much as Frank Paul Bowman about religion in nineteenth-century France— and I know of no one who does—to go through these pages requires either a great deal of faith in the author or several years of hard "outside" reading. Except for workmanlike translations of all the French texts into English, Professor Bowman caters neither to unsophistication nor faulty knowledge. If readers are unacquainted with Lamennais's Paroles d'un croyant, they may construct an image from the commentaries and parodies Bowman cites or they may read the work. Those ignorant of the basic beliefs of Christianity, which give meaning to such phrases as "the Christian Trinity God is 'Creator, Re- Reviews325 deemer, and Sanctifier,' " will be frustrated. Occasionally, the author's background assumptions deserve fuller explanation and support. I think, for example , of his passing but important reference to "Flaubert's own [religious] convictions" (p. 199). The point is by no means obvious. It has caused some scholarly discussion and provides the material for considerable controversy, since Flaubert's religious beliefs must be evaluated in the varying perspectives of his virulent anticlericalism, his agnostic tolerance—even admiration—for those like Mile Leroyer de Chantepie who have faith, and his submission to textual considerations when in the throes of artistic creation. But these are minor difficulties, and Bowman's book easilyjustifies whatever effort it requires. French Romanticism gives a sense of the intense interplay that existed throughout the first half of the nineteenth century between religious, political, and literary discourse. To a degree this intertextuality can be explained by the secularization of religion, its themes, and its values. Certainly, as the Catholic Church lost influence at all levels of society, intellectuals flailed about while attempting to find both a new foundation and valid touchstones to build and evaluate their thought. In fascinating chapters on "The Comparison ofJesus and Socrates," "Napoleon as a Christ Figure," "Precious Blood," Bowman traces the way once meaningful religious figures and symbols, which had been emptied of both power and significance, were resuscitated and stuffed anew with an often ludicrous mix of ignorance and willful misprision. Where early mystics used erotic images to express spiritual experience, the Romantics simply confused Eros and Agape. To say that "Christ freed the slaves" cannot be impugned...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 324-326
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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