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160Philosophy and Literature as he does, call this play a tragedy, with a central character who survives his reading with so little sympathy. State University of New York at BuffaloJohn Peradotto Acts of Literature, by Jacques Derrida; edited by Derek Attridge; xiii & 456 pp. New York: Routledge, 1992, $49.95 cloth, $16.95 paper. Acts ofLiteratureis a valuable gathering ofJacques Derrida's intricate reflections on literature and criticism, and on the institutions in which (and through which) literary/critical activity occurs. Derek Attridge has edited this volume with care and precision, choosing excerpts from a number of Derrida's major books, including Of Grammatology, Dissemination, and SignépongelSignsponge, and integrating them with essays that Derrida has contributed over the years to collections and anthologies. Attridge has also provided a cogent introduction, useful bibliography, and—best of all—the edited transcript of an interview he conducted with Derrida in April 1989 on "this strange institution called literature ." The interview precedes the reprinted texts, and serves as Derrida's own introduction to them and survey of his investment in literary forms, genres, and tropes. Yet it is a strange, somewhat disconcerting experience to peruse Acts of Literature . On one level, it supplies a superb intellectual workout for readers willing to be tested by Derrida's stylistic demands. But on another level, Acts ofLiterature is so intensely self-conscious and relendessly determined to qualify, question, and undercut its brief moments of firm statement, that it doesn't always reward the efforts from readers that it requires. AU ofthe texts here are alternately enlightening and exasperating, supremely original and maddeningly coy. In them Derrida treats such authors as Rousseau, Mallarmé, Joyce, Kafka, Shakespeare, and Celan, yet it would be a mistake to presume that he intends to grant anything like the ideas and insights that conventional acts ofliterary criticism afford. Reading Acts ofLiterature will make you a sharper thinker, but it probably will not shift or enlarge your knowledge about the authors whose work Derrida appears to fasten upon. Perhaps another way to make the point is to note that this book is highly specialized. It isn't connected to literary criticism or philosophical inquiry as projects designed to advance the understanding of primary figures and the texts they composed. Its real connection is to the mobile, compelling, evocative, mystifying and mystified world of Derridean writing. In diis respect, Derrida Reviews161 increasingly resembles another great original, the American critic Kenneth Burke. Burke's books are often wonderfully absorbing; like Derrida, he travels freely from one discipline and body of texts to others, and picks on all manner of authors and topics for his meditations. But whatever the apparent subject, Burke's real subject is always himself—Burkology, as one admirer has termed it, just as perhaps Derrida's subject is, invariably, Derridology. To say this is, first of all, a tribute to the place that Derrida occupies on the intellectual scene. There are very few writers like him, very few whose names evoke and represent an entire network of discourse. But the transformation of Derrida into a subject also means that he no longer affects the general theory and practice of criticism as he once did. His early essays and books—above all, of course, Of Grammatology—changed literary studies for the better by encouraging critics, teachers, and students to query categories and distinctions they had taken for granted as normal, natural, obvious. Derrida himself said almost nothing in this early work about race, class, gender, and ethnicity, and nothing about "opening up" the literary canon. But he impelled readers to consider what the traditional topics and canons of literature and criticism had marginalized and excluded, had committed to silence or designated as "other." More than anyone else, including Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault, Derrida moved criticism toward exciting new areas for analysis and research, areas that are now at the center of literary studies and that, paradoxically, are now more powerfully engaging than the writings by Derrida that Acts ofLiterature assembles . Wellesley CollegeWilliam E. Cain Countercurrents: On the Primacy of Texts in Literary Criticism , edited by Raymond Adolph Prier; ix & 302 pp. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992, $54.50 cloth, $17.95...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 160-161
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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