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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 by a student of Paul de Man and translator of Jacques Derrida's La Dissémination bears the stamp of her two major mentors. It demonstrates not only that deconstructionist criticism can be done and done well without requiring the reader to have a good knowledge of Heidegger, Hegel, Derrida, Nietzsche, Freud, and Bataille, but also that a close methodical exegesis of texts can serve to raise and clarify certain major theses with regard to language that have been put forward in somewhat less accessible form in Derrida and de Man. Though playful at times, Johnson's style is rational and spare. She does not belabor us with elaborate conceptual preliminaries but goes straight to work. Her analyses are blessedly free of the turgid pretentiousness and willful obscurity of Derrida as well as the baroque density of de Man. With a relentless thoroughness Johnson deconstructs Barthes's Balzac in S/Z, Baudelaire's two Invitations au voyage (one in verse and one in prose), syntax and performativity in Mallarmé's poetry, the sense of an ending in Melville's Billy Budd, and finally Derrida's reading of Lacan on Poe's The Purloined Letter. She groups her seven chapters into three categories: Sexuality and Difference , Poetry and Difference, and Difference in the Act. In the first group fall the analyses of Barthes's S/Z and Mallarmé's Le Nénuphar blanc; in the second Baudelaire's Invitations and Mallarmé's La Déclaration foraine and La Tzigane; and in the third the essays on Melville and Derrida-Lacan-Poe. The final two Shorter Reviews245 essays are the longest and most impressive in the volume. Johnson's exegesis of Billy Budd must be considered a showpiece of deconstructionist criticism. It is thorough, illuminating exegesis that does not require one to learn any new, tricky terms or slogans. If the Billy Budd essay is a tour de force in rhetoricaldeconstructivist exegesis, the final piece, "The Frame of Reference: Poe, Lacan, Derrida," is a dazzling analysis of the act of reading. To the layers of interpretation within the story itself are added Lacan's reading of the story as "allegory of the signifier," and Derrida's effort to frame Lacan for making the signifier into a signified, falling into logocentrism, or worse "phallogocentrism" (p. 124). Like her mentor de Man, who in Blindness and Insight reproached Derrida for misreading Rousseau, Johnson cleverly catches Derrida willfully misreading Lacan when he accuses Lacan of falling into a certain "classical conception of psychoanalysis." Johnson concludes that "the author of any critique is himself framed by his own frame of the other, no matter how guilty or innocent the other may be" (p. 137). With the focus of the final essay clearly on the act and scene of interpretation, Johnson's book reveals...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 244-245
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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