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Reviews169 involves a delicate interplay of narrative roles, with the artist and the thinker indispensably joined in a showcase of poetic and philosophic harmony. Ohio UniversityRichard Danner Minor Prophecies: The Literary Essay in the Culture Wars, by Geoffrey H. Hartman; xii & 252 pp. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991, $29.95. In this fine collection of essays, most of which appeared separately in the 1980s, Geoffrey Hartman discusses the course of (Anglo-American) criticism during the last three hundred years and focuses on the shift in critical style that occurred around 1950: from the genteel conversational speech of the public critic or "man of letters" to the specialized, self-conscious writing of the technical critic; from a practice appealing to a "gendemanly" Common Reader to one addressing an Uncommon Reader, familiar with Hegel, Husserl, and Heidegger; from a wariness of theory to an embrace of it; or, to mention two writers who play an important role in the collection, from F. R. Leavis to Paul de Man. Hartman underlines the status ofthe modern critical essay as a reflective genre, insists on the specificity of contemporary criticism, and foregrounds its ability to put in doubt prescriptive or visionary schemes and to reveal the ambiguity and richness of language. Hartman's likes and dislikes are clear and so is the suppleness of his stance. If he favors the Uncommon Reader, it is not to the exclusion of the Common one. He has a generous view of critical writing and prizes the tension between different styles. Indeed, his book itself provides samples of informal and more technical prose. According to Hartman, criticism deserves the same attention as fiction or poetry and it can prove—just as they can—a locus of creativity. It should not be subservient to Art or Literature. Nor should it be subordinated to moralistic or political ends. Radier, it should practice questioning and, like deconstruction, recognize the labyrinthian doubleness of texts, our own temporality , and the doubtfulness of ultimate truths. Supportive of a nonincriminating hermeneutics of suspicion, Hartman is for secular thinking as opposed to fundamentalism, for theory instead of Theory, for minor prophecies and against messianism. Perhaps because of his resistance to critical practices that assume tasks more pertinent "to political philosophy, the social sciences, and law schools" (p. 3) and his desire to preserve the autonomy ofliterary studies (rather than blending them in the pot of, say, cultural studies), Hartman pays litde—if any—attention 170Philosophy and Literature to such influential currents and writers as feminist criticism or gender-oriented interpretation, Edward Said, Julia Kristeva, Henry Louis Gates, and Stephen Greenblatt. Similarly, perhaps because ofhis affinity for deconstruction (as well as rabbinic exegesis) and—no doubt—because of the interests ofcontemporary literary studies, Hartman privileges interpretive rather than more stricdy descriptive or evaluative criticism. Finally, perhaps because his main concern is to sketch die sources and nature of"gendemanly" criticism and ofits ascendant technical rival, todiscuss theircontextand implications rather than theirnotional underpinnings, Hartman leaves some of the latter unexamined (the concurrence of understanding and error, the impossibility for truth and text to coincide ). In other words, Minor Propfaies is neither a mapping of the possibilities of criticism nor an account of their actual exploitation nor an exploration of their conceptual structure. Rather, it is a panoramic presentation of the culture of criticism and its conflicts, a presentation that is essayistic in the best sense: reflective, entertaining, and thought-provoking. University of PennsylvaniaGerald Prince ThinkingAcross the American Grain: Ideology, Intellect, and theNewPragmatism, by Gües Gunn; xiii & 273 pp. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992, $14.95 paper. In his introduction to this book, Gües Gunn says he wants to survey "the prospects for the development of a kind of critical discourse that possesses public accessibility." He adds that "the essential challenge is to develop a voice that is attentive, answerable, and, as much as possible, unassimilable" (p. 18). This book presents varied materials about the relations between pragmatism and literary and cultural studies, and occasionally links these materials togedier in worthwhüe ways. But I am struck above all by its abject failure to live up to its own standards. For example, Gunn must be credited with complete mastery...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 169-170
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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