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Reviews343 Outside Literature, by Tony Bennett; ? & 310 pp. New York: Roudedge, 1990, $52.50 cloth, $17.50 paper. Outside Literature is a disappointing sequel to Tony Bennett's stimulating first book, Formalism and Marxism (1979). It deals with an important subject—the "institutions" that organize and regulate the "discourses" of literature, culture, and pedagogy—and contains adroit scrutinies of a number ofimportant theorists . But the argument that Bennett labors to present is unduly abstract, and he fails to develop its implications for criticism and teaching. Bennett describes Outside Literature as "a critical dialogue with the concerns of Marxist literary theory" (p. vii). He contends that while Marxism is indeed powerful and illuminating, it cannot be privileged as the sole element of a politically engaged critical position (p. 7). For Bennett, the key general principle is that literature has no "outside." Literature does not exist in a separate domain to which Marxism and other theories might be juxtaposed and which, from the "outside," they would then interpret. "Literary relations," he observes, are themselves "social relations." Literature is defined, established, and contested "inside" social and political institutions, and thus critics and teachers must abandon the notion that literature and criticism comprise a distinct sphere and should instead articulate "a historical sociology of literary forms, functions, and effects" (pp. 9, 35). Bennett prosecutes his case through close analysis of influential modem and contemporary Marxist, radical, structuralist, and poststructuralist intellectuals, including Raymond Williams, Roland Barthes, Lucien Goldmann, Mikhail Bakhtin, Louis Althusser, and, in greater detail, Terry Eagleton, Fredric Jameson, Edward Said, and Frank Lentricchia. His local insights are often shrewd, as when he registers Said's "strategic vagueness"—whereby "theoretical difficulties" are elided and evaded through loose, associative thinking (p. 197)— and when he elucidates Jameson's "slippery reasoning" in TL· Political Unconscious (p. 207). Bennett's range is fairly wide, but is less extensive than it should be for this book. He does not even cite Stanley Fish, Gerald Graff, Walter Benn Michaels, Richard Ohmann, Steven Mailloux, and others who have tackled issues that are similar, and sometimes identical, to those that he considers—the relation between theory and practice, the role ofinstitutions in the production ofknowledge , the possibility ofa "politics" ofcriticism, the place ofliterary studies within social and cultural debates, and the renewal of rhetoric as an instrument for interpretation. In this respect, Outside Hterature is a latecomer to a field that has already received many incisive contributions, and it adds litde to what has already been said more concretely and effectively. This shortcoming of Outside Literature, however, is perhaps less dismaying than two others. The first is that Bennett nowhere ponders the meaning and 344Philosophy and Literature pertinence of Marxist literary and cultural criticism in an era when Marxism has fallen into disrepute in so many quarters. It seems strange for Bennett busily to immerse himself in narrow differences of opinion among Marxist theoreticians while not alluding to the fact that the Soviet empire has collapsed, Eastern Europe has been transformed, and socialism is everywhere in retreat. His inattention to the political realities of the late 1980s and 1990s makes his book seem rather unreal, as though he were conducting a rarified exercise that mattered only to persons confined to the academy. The second, related problem widi Outside Literature is that, for all of its sophisticated worrying about politics, it is very abstract and recondite, and is perplexingly divorced from real things and the lives of people. In one section, for example, Bennett ponders "theories of the novel" (pp. 86—98) but does not name or explore specific writers and texts: it's all straight theory. One wonders whether he noticed this omission. In another, longer section that purports to focus on "criticism and pedagogy" (pp. 244—71), Bennett manages to meditate upon the topic without ever referring to teachers, students, courses, and curricula . At the very end of his book, he finally asks about the "differences, practically speaking," that his arguments might produce (p. 285). But he offers only a rehearsaloftruisms aboutthe formative power ofinstitutions, and couples this with windy talk about the urgent need for "analysis" and "intervention." In this book Bennett has gone badly astray. Wellesley CollegeWilliam E. Cain...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 343-344
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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