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Reviews Academic Capitalism and Literary Value, by Harold Fromm; xi & 281 pp. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1991, $35.00 cloth, $16.00 paper. This book is a relentless attack on academic revolutionaries who force texts and theories on the procrustean bed of such ideologies as Deconstruction, Marxism, and Feminism. They are depicted as frauds who despise capitalism while enjoying its cornucopia of tenure, steady incomes, and pensions. "The radical academic exhibits the verbal trappings and forms of Marxist renunciation while acting as paradigmatic acquisitive capitalist: he needs a 32-bit computer to write his jeremiads against technology and the marketplace . . ." (p. 252). Professor Fromm conducts the reader on a forced march through thickets ofcurrent academic theory, where the "casuists ofa new scholasticism" browbeat readers into accepting their perverse, tendentious interpretations of literary texts. Cynthia Ozick, Elaine Showalter, and others are displayed lashing the Woolfs, Doris Lessing, and Margaret Drabble for not satisfying Feminist tenets, while works such as Frankenstein are inflated to major rank because they are right-thinking and found to be soggy with Feminist significance. Meanwhile, Marxists and Deconstructionists sweat with ideological zeal to disempower literary texts and to displace the author's authority with their own superior insights —all in total disregard of reasonably sane readers. In dueling with these critics Professor Fromm employs clear and telling arguments. He sees Lentricchia, Merod, and other Marxists as sharing a central weakness: they pursue "a utopianism that defers real life to a future that never comes and never could come" (p. 160). They see everything as political in a world of predators, but "to exist at all is an act of preemption, and it is no less preemptive to hegemonize as a Marxist than it is to hegemonize as a capitalist" (p. 156). They seem incapable of realizing that they are now the "odious power elite" (p. 211). Professor Fromm's most acidic arguments are with the Deconstructionists , who, he feels, reached a logical nadir withJ. Hillis Miller's complaint that Deconstructive texts are misread; Miller apparently would seek to exempt Philosophy and Literature, © 1992, 16: 373-431 374Philosophy and Literature them from their own premise that all language is indeterminate and therefore not clearly decipherable. Fromm writes with a verve that imparts resonance and glitter to his arguments . A reviewer is tempted to quote him excessively: a "trendy absolutism" treats "passing ideologies like universal panaceas"; by the time these fads reach PMLA they have acquired "the character of naturalized academic tics" (p. 67). Vivid phrases come like raisins in a pudding. At times, however, there is a disquieting excess in his language that prompts a doubt, a brown hesitation. Analysts of the Woolfs are charged with "a pornography of the soul" (p. 91). Some black critics are described as "turning other people's flesh not into lampshades but into pelf . . ." (p. 97). One begins to wonder what could be said for the other side of the argument. As good as this book is in general, it calls for at least one more caveat. Too much of the time, Professor Fromm is not taking on major critics, but minor firefly examples of "currendy fashionable ideology." After so many specimens oftheirjoyless theorizing andjargon-barnacled prose a gray dust of depression setdes over the reader. Alas, one sighs, surely there must be sanity somewhere in Academe; surely, Deconstructionists et al. do not continue to have quite the dominion that Fromm and other Jeremiahs postulate. Perhaps as melancholy as anything described in the book is the radical divorce between the academic world and the world of diurnal human beings. "Colleagues have replaced a public, and jargon has supplanted English" (p. 207). Criticism that used to be readable and even nourishing has been displaced by clots of "self-absorbed Laputans" and supercilious mandarins murmuring to each other. At the MLA meetings the speakers, Fromm warns, will soon only be talking to God. Meanwhile, the literature that they have commandeered and perverted is in its essence and purpose communal and ardendy communicative . The reader is finally inclined to agree with Professor Fromm's suggestion that these academics need to return to "quotidian realities while resisting transcendental afflatus and bombast" (p. 254). Whitman CollegeWalter E...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 373-374
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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