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144Philosophy and Literature The CaseforaHumanisticPoetics, by Daniel R. Schwarz; xi & 215 pp. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990, $32.95 cloth, $16.95 paper. Addressing the major issues in the theory and practice of literary criticism is at present rather like picking one's way through terrain concealing booby-traps and occasional snipers left by retreating armies. The excesses of an exaggerated Sausurrianism, abyss-haunting deconstruction, reductive search for power relationships, and Marxism confident of die imminent collapse of capitalism have been tacitly, though rarely explicidy, acknowledged by most of those who had eagerly embraced these strategies. Nevertheless, the critic sits down to write with the knowledge that readers are still likely to respond, "you haven't taken account of Barthes, or Derrida, or Foucault, or Jameson, or . . . ." But adequately to anticipate the possible objections from all those who hold some portion ofone or more ofthese theoretical enterprises is simply to spend space repeating points that Raymond Tallis, A. D. Nuttall, John Holloway, Frederick Crews, Richard Levin, Wayne Booth, and others have already cogendy made. Such is the problem faced by Daniel Schwarz in The Case for a Humanistic Poetics. On the whole Schwarz's mode of dealing with the difficulty is neither by developing a comprehensive theory nor by mounting detailed refutations of theories with which he disagrees, but by urging and illustrating the richness possible to humanistic, pluralistic reading. Schwarz never gives a capsule definition of the tradition of humanism that constitutes the core of his perspective but it explicitly includes methodological pluralism, the belief that language has external reference, due recognition of formal elements, and the assumed possibility of approximating a correct reading. Most importandy, the humanism he advocates assumes that "literature expresses insights about human life and responses to human situations" (p. 2). Such humanistic reading is not the application of a theory but a series of transactions between the text and the reader (I wish Schwarz had given appropriate recognition to Louise Rosenblatt, whose 1978 The Reader, the Text, the Poem cogendy developed die transactional approach). As an illustration of transactional, pluralistic, experience-related reading, Schwarz gives some fourteen pages to developing the questions and corresponding insights that might be initiated by a careful but open reading ofJoyce's "Araby." Even while thinking that a number of Schwarz's points sounded all too much like what might be found in a freshman textbook, I realized diat I was becoming much more aware of the many ways the story could be profitably approached. Similarly, the third chapter, "Character and Characterization: An Inquiry," avoids die temptation to try to construct a comprehensive theory of the role of the character in literary texts. Rather, it reminds us that although of all die aspects of die literary text the creation and function of the individual character have received the least amount of profitable discussion, the reader's response to characters is of signal importance. Reviews145 Schwarz's humanism and pluralism allow him to make the salutary point that not only do different readers respond differendy to the same text but that the same reader ought to respond differently to different texts. On the odier hand, perhaps because he is anxious not to become the perpetrator of limited theories himself, he relies rather too heavily on rhetorical questions addressed to the reader: "Is it not ... ?" or "Do we not ... ?" echo a bit tiresomely. The two essays just mentioned, plus the first chapter, "Humanistic Formalism : A Theoretical Defense" seem to me the most valuable portions of the book. The fourth chapter, "The Narrative of Paul de Man" is a thoughtful reflection on the revelation of de Man's wartime anti-Semitic articles. The final chapter is a summary and critique of the theories of some fifteen literary critics from I. A. Richards to the present, which serves to reiterate the values of what Schwarz means by a humanistic poetics. In brief, the volume does not attempt to sweep the reader along by the clever ingenuity of its theorizing, but to cut through the constraints of particular theories and urge readers to reflect on the multiple values they have actually found, and others worth seeking, in the literature they read. Pennsylvania State UniversityWendell...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 144-145
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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