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158Philosophy and Literature contrast to his careful, detailed readings of Ashbery, Bishop, and Merrill. Of course, it is difficult to consider entire groups of poets in detail in a single chapter, but no group can be adequately reduced to a single, short poem—and not even its best one at that. His readings of individual contemporary poems outside the boundaries of poetic schools are far more insightful. Ultimately, Shedey's overall diesis is a provocative one, and difficult to fault in general. Poets can embody, or attempt to challenge, the historical consciousness of their age in their work; but they cannot escape it if they are to produce genuine art. A major part of the consciousness of our age is indeed skepticism, and the major poets of our time will be those who manage to confront it direcdy. Shetley's optimism that poetry can appeal to intellectual readers is gratifying, and his book is a useful contribution to the debate about poetry's relation to a general intellectual readership. University of CincinnatiKevin Walzer Dialagues of the Word: The Bible as Literature According to Bakhtin, by Walter L. Reed; xii & 223 pp. NewYork: Oxford University Press, 1993, $39.95. In one regard, a book of this sort seems to have been almost inevitable, as its subject represents a convergence of two prominent vogues ofrecent decades in Anglo-American literary criticism and theory: interpretation of the Bible "as literature," over the past thirty years, and appropriation of the critical concepts and methods of the Soviet theorist M. M. Bakhtin, from the early 1980s on. However, whether intended or not as a pun upon the labels of the Gospels (kata Matthaion, kata Markon, etc.), die closing phrase in the book's subtitle is somewhat misleading. As the author concedes, references to biblical texts are scarce in Bakhtin's writings; so, strictly speaking, it would be impossible to give anything but the sketchiest account of the Bible "according to Bakhtin" himself. And when Bakhtin does mention the Bible, he "tends to treat it as official, single-voiced discourse, stressing its public, institutional role in dominandy Christian cultures and periods" (p. 14), a tendency that might seem to discourage adapting Bakhtin as a guide for biblical study. (A notable exception to this tendency is Bakhtin's comparison of early Christian writings to GrecoRoman novels as works that represent, in his own words, a "carnivalization of genres widiin the realm of the serio-comical" [quoted p. 77].) Nonetheless, in perceiving—as Bakhtin apparendy did not—"the striking relevance of Bakhtin's philosophy and aesthetics of dialogue to the peculiarly Reviews159 polyform nature of the Bible," Walter L. Reed finds predecessors in Stephen Prickett, Harold Fisch, and Robert Polzin (p. 14; cf. p. 175 n28). More elaborately than they, Reed tries to demonsttate several advantages to approaching the Bible from the vantage of Bakhtin's "dialogics," as opposed to critical strategies obsessed with "narrative": first, that Bakhtin's theory highlights the bearing of authority upon linguistic usage; second, that it fosters an appreciation of the multifariousness of generic structuring and significant forming of the canonical text; third, that it draws together the scriptures' most distinctive formal trait and their central theme, the persistent dialogue between God and his people. What Reed ultimately argues for is a distillation from Bakhtin of a "poetics of responsibility" (as distinct from the oft-practiced "hermeneutics of suspicion") : "an approach to the written word in which form is recognized as a reliable revelation rather than a deceptive disguise" (p. 171). On the whole, Reed admirably fulfills his considerable task, combining a broad overview of the dialogical poetics of the three main "genres" preserved in the Hebrew canon (law, prophecy, wisdom) with an insightful assessment of the "conversation" between the New Testament and the Hebrew scriptures, as well as with a pair of more in-depth Bakhtinian analyses of the Book ofJob as a dialogic "critique of the Hebrew Bible as a whole" (p. 120) and of the Book of Revelation—that "distinctive, intertestamental finale" (p. 143) of the Christian canon—as "a prime example of unifying discourse and the centralizing force in language" (p. 141). Assuming on the model of Bakhtin's historical...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 158-160
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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