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Shorter Reviews123 Interpretation ofNarrative, edited by Mario J. Valdés and OwenJ. Miller; xi & 203 pp. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978, $15.00. Jonathan Culler recently called on literature departments to open their windows onto wider horizons, specifying the study of narrative as one way to relate literature to philosophy and history. As Georg Simmel remarked in "The Adventurer," it is a distinctive and universal human trait to transform experience into stories or narratives. Whether Culler's idea, like many others, will be adopted in inverse proportion to its worth remains to be seen, but he clearly points to the timeliness of this anthology. Interpretation of Narrative is a collection of essays by distinguished European and North American critics (e.g., Ralph Cohen, Wolfgang Iser, H. R. Jauss, J. Hillis Miller, Michel Riffaterre), presented to a colloquium on narrative held at Toronto in 1976. It investigates three fundamental questions: how are narratives produced, how are they received, and how are these activities related? Accordingly, the editors have divided the essays into three parts, "formalist," "hermeneutic," and "metacritical." Such an arrangement is neither arbitrary, innocent, nor insignificant, for all scholarly articles are narratives themselves, and anthologies likewise subscribe to narrative conventions. This one weaves its essays into the classic form of thesis ("Formalist Analysis"), antithesis ("Hermeneutic Criticism"), and synthesis ("Metacriticism"—the meta revealing the Aufhebung, or sublation). Doing so responds to a desire inherent in all readers to form parts into wholes, but it also engages a suspect, if perhaps unavoidable, ideology: that knowledge is a kind of positive entity building up over time, like compound interest, that insight is possible without any concomitant blindness, and, by implication, that Part Three marks an advance in knowledge over One and Two. Valdés is well aware of the ideological implications of his form, for he asks, "Can we claim that interpretation of literary texts contributes to an increase in knowledge?", and answers immediately "I believe we can . . ." (p. viii). Despite his belief, the narrative of Interpretation of Narrative raises two serious problems. First, as even a cursory reading of Parts One and Two shows, establishing a relationship between text- and reader-oriented criticism is a pseudo-problem at best, and one might more fruitfully have asked why it ever should have seemed possible to keep the two apart. Second, several essays rebel against the dialectical pattern by undermining its presupposition that knowledge is progressive. That is, the part puts in question the whole that was to have regulated it. Indeed, this subversion is the whole purpose of Timothy Reiss's powerfully-argued paper, but it also informs, e.g., Christie McDonald's ironic model of reading in Rousseau, or Brian Fitch's demonstration of how the eye (oeil) in a Bataille text gets demoted from the all-commanding instrument of knowledge to one link in a chain of metaphoric signifiers that transforms it into an egg (oeuf), the sun (soleil), and finally a ball (couille and testicule). That the contents of Interpretation of Narrative puts its own narrative form 124Philosophy and Literature in question is no weakness, however, but an exemplary editorial act, and a demonstration of how effectively the book raises the reader's general awareness of assumptions about narrative. In sum, students of both philosophy and literature will find things of interest here. Within the limits to which they are always bound, this anthology manages to discuss with some rigor a wide range of writers, texts, and topics. Among the best contributions are Riffaterre writing on a Balzac short story, Jauss on reader replacing text as authority figure, Eugene Vance on medieval poetics, and J. H. Miller on labyrinthine "lines" of narrative. The differences among these pieces are attractive, and it would be wrong-headed to try forcing them into one interlockingjigsaw puzzle. But if the essays share a common feature, it is that in their varying ways they all put in question the still pervasive doctrine of "the one inherent meaning of the text which the reader has to uncover" (p. 184). And that remains an argument worth mounting. Pomona CollegeArden Reed Allegories of Reading: Figurai Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust, by Paul de Man; xi & 305 pp...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 123-124
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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