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Reviews163 find some compensation, at least, in the insightful individual essays that the collection contains. Williams CollegeJohn Kleiner Rhetoric and Irony: Western Literacy and Western Lies, by C Jan Swearingen; xvi & 323 pp. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991, $32.50. This misleadingly titled volume deserves an evaluation bj a specialist in the history of rhetoric, with emphasis on the first thousand years of that history and on the twentieth century. Its first five chapters treat, respectively, the Preplatonics, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and St. Augustine, while chapter six discusses truth, dialogue, and egocentrism in contemporary society. The basic questions asked by this book are familiar: how did rhetoric and philosophy interact in different periods? Must all rhetoric imply deceit? What are the precise implications of Plato's disapproval of writing? How does the meaning of irony change over the centuries? And, in chapter six, what new elements has feminism brought to these age-old debates? I found the first five chapters informative and challenging, and the last one intriguing and controversial . If much of Swearingen's material is familiar, her emphasis on the question ofliteracy seems new and refreshing. She reappraises rhetoric as "prototypically literate and textual" rather than oral (p. 10), thereby giving a different slant to the early history of rhetoric. Her outline of its evolution from Parmenides to St. Augustine seems entirely plausible and includes fascinating discussions of the writing on Greek vases, Aristode's categories, the essential differences between Plato and Aristotle, Cicero's stress on literacy, and Augustine's theory of signs, among many other related topics. AU of this is lucidly expressed and situated both in its contemporary context (I learned a great deal about Augustine 's conversion and about literacy in ancient Greece) and in relation to modern linguistic and semiotic theory. A specialist might object that too much discussion of modern authorities is confined to the footnotes, but to a general reader this is an advantage. The final chapter, no doubt deliberately, is much more problematic, and seems to me to be trying to do too many things in a too-brief space. Beginning with Kierkegaard's definition of irony, Swearingen moves rapidly into feminist literature (Atwood) and theory (especially Christa Wolf, who sounds like an eminently rational feminist). The chapter includes a capsule history of rhetoric 164Philosophy and Literature from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century, too brief to be very helpful but with some lively suggestions which would have been worth developing. The medieval iconography of Rhetoric (p. 227) would gain from comparison with her Renaissance counterpart, especially in German engravings, and the equation ofErasmus's Folly with Lady Rhetoric (p. 228) needs some supporting evidence. The whole chapterjumps about disconcertingly among topics: irony, women's voices, cognitive psychology, and the importance of dialogue. But ifmy final impression is ofthe uneasy combination oftwo separate books, one on the history of rhetoric up to Augustine and one on the relevance of that history to today's society, I was never bored. Swearingen combines solid erudition with provocative viewpoints, and raises questions of crucial interest to us all. The book has endnotes, sometimes running to pages of discussion, a long bibliography, and an inadequate index. Too many of its misprints involve the agreement of subject and verb, and someone at the press should learn how to spell dilettantish and several Latin nouns. But these minor flaws do not detract from what is on the whole an enjoyable book. Vanderbilt UniversityBarbara C. Bowen Another Reality: Metamorphosis and Imagination in the Poetry of Ovid, Petrarch, and Ronsard, by Kathleen Anne Perry; ix & 260 pp. New York: Peter Lang, 1990, $43.50. It is all too easy to think of Ovid's Metamorphoses as a simple compendium of poetic myths and fables where Renaissance poets drew freely, and more or less at random, in their search for rhetorical ornamentation to highlight the expression of exquisite feelings of love or explore complex issues of poetic inspiration . The fact is that this material could have been drawn from many other sources and, upon reflection, it is clear that the appeal of Ovid must have been more organic than we are in the habit of supposing. In fact, as...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 163-164
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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