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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 paper. Countercurrents: On the Primacy of Texts in Literary Criticism is a collection of fifteen new essays on a wide variety of topics. Several essays address broad patterns of influence—Kafka's use of Dante, Petrarch's role in shaping modern literary history; others are concerned with single authors and isolated works— the poetry of Saint-John Perse, Kleists TL· Beggarwoman ofLocarno; and others take up more abstract, theoretical questions—Peircean semiotics and its possible applications in literary criticism. As this partial survey suggests, the essays in the collection share no transparent methodological, temporal, or linguistic com- 162Philosophy and Literature munality. Yet Prier maintains that the collection has a clear, even provocative message: the authors of these essays "dare to address a once acknowledged, but now decidedly unpopular assumption: the primacy of texts in literary criticism" (p. 1). Prier's introduction is far and away the most polemical section of the book. In prose that oscillates between the celebratory and the inflammatory, Prier praises texts ("a text helps us along, gives us a hand, provides us a boost") and vilifies those critics who would "deny our positive, experiential participation in these texts" (p. 8). It is not altogether clear whom exacdy Prier has in mind when he contemns the "anti-humanistic arguments of sophistic exegetes" but the group would seem to include Derrida (or at least the Derridean "epigones ofthe eighties and nineties") and the "postmodern exegetes ofNietzsche, Freud, and Marx" who endorse a "psychologically negative hermeneutics ofsuspicion." What links, presumably, the essays in Countercurrents is a common respect for the humanistic possibilities of reading, possibilities grounded in the "authority shared between a text and its reader and, ultimately, among a text, its reader, and its author" (p. 3). The essays are divided into five sections: "The Theoretical Hyphen," "Lo, the Text Tells Its Tale," "Appearing Texts," "Reflected Texts Beyond Words," and "A Cultural-Historical Hyphen." Of these sections, only the first and fifth possess more than a nominal unity. Grouped in the first section, are the collection 's two most theoretical essays: an essay by E. F. Kaelin on the StructuralistPoststructuralist controversy and an essay by WilliamJ. Kennedy on Nietzsche's engagement with the rhetorical practices of ancient Greece. In the final section are four essays focusing on Petrarch and Dante by Aldo Scaglione, Maristella de Panizza Lorch, Alien Mandelbaum, and Prier. Among the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 161-163
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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