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1 18Philosophy and Literature The final chapters turn to issues and conclusions. The discussion of periodicity in the creative process centers mostly on Mallarmé, Valéry, Rilke, and the composer Hugo Wolf, all of whom had years of silence during which they wrote little or nothing. There is some consideration given various theories that attempt to identify stages in the creative process, and a lengthy discussion of the workings of inspiration that is filled with testimonials by advocates and opponents . Poetic Creation is unfailingly interesting and thorough, and it is written and translated well (although the author's lack of sympathy with ecstasy is unintentionally mirrored in his translator's regular misspelling of that word). While the book does not offer a clear proposal for a general theory of creativity, as the author claims in his Preface, it does provide a fair and not merely one-sided account of the importance of the genetic approach in understanding poetry. As Fehrman observes at the conclusion, the significance of studying creativity lies in the idea that there is something of a dialectical relation between creator and work, for not only does the author create his work but his work creates the author. C. W. Post Center, Long Island UniversityArnold Berleant The Structure ofLiterary Understanding, by Stein Haugom Olsen; xi & 235 pp. New York and London: Cambridge University Press, 1978, $19.95. "The epistemological assumptions on which a theory of literature is based," according to Stein Olsen, are "usually taken over from some currently fashionable philosophical thesis" (p. 7); his own is no exception. The thesis in question is Grice's account of language. Within this framework, Olsen presents an original , theoretically powerful, and often wrong-headed account of literary understanding . Ostensibly the fundamental point of reference is "literary practice," which is interpreted as including those aspects of literary criticism "which are actually about literary works rather than their nature" (p. 4); expressions of a critic's theory of the nature of literature are excluded. This neat separation is not, however, maintained. A central element in F. R. Leavis's detailed critical practice is stigmatized as involving "confusion" (p. 69) on the grounds that it presupposes a theoretically incoherent model of literature. As the theoretical argument is based on appeal to critical practice, the danger of circularity is evident; different theories reflect different practices and vice versa. The first half of the book opens with powerful attacks on attempts to construe literature as independent of human intentions by reference either to "semantic density" or "structure." Accounts of literature as essentially expressing or arousing emotion are then criticized by reference to Kenny's analysis of Shorter Reviews119 emotion concepts. Finally, it is argued that literature is not to be understood as informative discourse; the latter is constituted by "the existence of a practice involving a series of utterances related to each other in a dialectical process of challenge and support" (p. 54), but this forms no part of literary practice. The second half presents the preferred model of literary understanding. In treating a work as literary we attribute to the author certain aesthetic intentions; these are conventionally determined, and the author has no "special authority when it comes to interpreting" them (p. 118). These conventions allow us to single out passages as segments, and explore their interrelations under descriptions of gradually increasing generality until "all the segments are interrelated in a network of descriptions which articulates the 'meaning' of the work" (p. 83); the familiar criteria for interpretative validity are then fascinatingly integrated into the overall structure. Evaluation is secondary, for "evaluative terms characterize how far an element contributes to, or frustrates, an interpretation" (p. 161). To the radical sceptic it is replied that the institution of literature is a partial criterion for the existence of faculties which are themselves criteria for a society having a highly developed culture; the only final defense, however, is that "literature is the kind of activity which arouses devotion" (p. 223). How long it will continue to do so if the above account is generally accepted remains to be seen, for the resulting vision of literature is remarkably austere. It excludes any text which "enters into the goal-directed...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 118-119
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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