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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 the 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 faüure to live up to its own standards. For example, Gunn must be credited with complete mastery ofcontemporary critical jargon. A typical sentence: "The new historicism proposes to redefine such things as 'the social' and 'the political' by historically resituating them within the material sites oftheirtextual production, representation, and appropriation" (p. 154). That is really an odd way to write if your aim is public accessibüity. The sentence could perhaps be rephrased into vernacular English—though even then only professors would be interested in the view it describes—but here virtuaUy every term is technical. If I never again see the word "site" or any of its permutations, it wül be too soon. Reviews171 And though, again, Gunn says he wants to develop a voice that is unassimilable , he seems obsessed with assimilating his own voice to someone, almost anyone, else's. He constandy drops names; almost every point is an appeal to authority. The phrases "in the words of X," "in the terms used by X," "as X has said," appear in sentence after sentence after sentence. In a move that borders on a parody of his own style, catalogues of names often replace whole lines of argument: one grand sentence on page 132 lines up thirty-one names in support of a point which I cannot now recall. Gunn's purpose is, as he says, interdisciplinary cultural criticism, and I hasten to point out that this book yields a new appreciation for the interconnectedness of various spheres of American literary production. The thrust is that the pragmatism of William James, John Dewey, and Richard Rorty can yield a flexible, open-ended, and nonoppressive way of doing literary criticism. Gunn puts this technique into operation at several points. His discussion ofMoby Dick in chapter six, for example, is striking and fruitful, and his treatment of American philosophy itselfis often acute. He devotes a chapter to the father of Henry and William James, Henry James, Sr., that sheds light on the sons' work and aids in the rehabilitation of the father's. These are the book's best moments. Nevertheless, I am not convinced that they are worth the price of admission. More often than not, Gunn resorts to undigested summaries of texts, both celebrated and obscure. When he speaks in his own voice, the occasional sharp formulation is hedged about with compressed jargon, or even outright prose howlers. For example: "To invite a hundred flowers to bloom is, in contemporary American criticism at least, to permit them to talk...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 170-171
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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