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Shorter Reviews243 of reason—in short, the mighty instincts of progression and free agency on the other" (p. 206). Scripps CollegeRichard Fadem The Rhizome and the Flower: The Perennial Philosophy —Yeats andJung, by James Olney; xv & 379 pp. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1980, $20.00. James Olney has produced a rich, provocative, and original work of intellectual history. His thesis is, in a way, straightforward enough. The "perennial philosophy" of the title is Platonism, itself the flowering of four rhizomata in early Greek philosophy—Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Parmenides, and Empedocles —while at the same time being the tap root that has nourished all thought in the Western philosophical tradition since Greek antiquity. Two of its most recent flowerings were Yeats and Jung. Whitehead's famous aphorism about all Western philosophy being a series of footnotes to Plato is the shorthand version of this thesis. But of course this presumes that Platonism can be conveniently characterized as a philosophical system erected upon a set of specifiable principles (the theory of forms, knowledge as recollection, the dialectic) which remain more or less identifiable in the thought of his followers. Naturally , the matter is not quite so simple. And James Olney shows how complicated it can be by unravelling the sources of Plato's thought in early Greek philosophy, then, after winding the strands back together in a chapter on Plato's cosmology in the Timaeus, showing how the fabric of Platonism is again unravelled and rewoven in the poetry of Yeats and the psychology of Jung. The pattern is not an unfamiliar one, but its reworking here casts the figure in a new form, one that in particular makes Yeats's poetry seem an even more momentous and powerful achievement, perhaps the only genuinely philosophical system in modern literature. But there is something left out of this account of the Western philosophical tradition as it flowers once again in Yeats and Jung, something that can be pinpointed best by drawing attention to the immediate context of Yeats's aesthetics . It is a bit surprising not to encounter in a book concerned with Yeats and early Greek philosophy more than passing mention of Pater and Nietzsche, nor any mention at all of Schopenhauer or Kierkegaard. For it isjust the special understanding of Greek antiquity emergent in the second half of the nineteenth century that is so crucial in shaping Yeats's own reading of the philosophical tradition. And this nineteenth-century understanding of the Greeks, embodied in texts like Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy and Pater's Plato and Platonism , challenges, one might even say deconstructs, the comparatively monistic account that James Olney gives of the tradition. Pater had this to say about the "doctrine of Plato": "If Platonism from age to age has meant, for some, on- 244Philosophy and Literature tology, a doctrine of 'being,' or the nearest attainable approach to or substitution for that; for others, Platonism has been in fact another name for skepticism , in a recognisable philosophic tradition." Plato's "skepticism," I would submit, was the more powerful shaping force among Yeats's immediate predecessors : Shelley, Keats, and Pater. This skepticism remains as the undoing of myth in poems even so apparently assured as "Among School Children." The question in the final line, "How can we know the dancer from the dance?", remains the central problem in Yeats's aesthetics, a rhetorical problem posed here in the form of what may be an unanswerable rhetorical question. For knowledge is precisely what Yeats never proposes. James Olney twice cites Yeats's famous remark in his final letter: "Man can embody truth but he cannot know it" (pp. 306, 369). And so we cannot finally "know" what the shape of Western intellectual history has been, though we can project schemes of historical understanding. Nourishing schemes, to be sure, but always containing the seeds of their own de(con)struction. This is the present impasse of historical criticism which The Rhizome and the Flower reveals but cannot overcome. Oregon State UniversityMichael Sprinker The Critical Difference: Essays in the Contemporary Rhetoric of Reading, by Barbara Johnson; xii & 146 pp. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981, $12.00. This little volume...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 243-244
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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