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162Philosophy and Literature UnbuildingJerusalem: Apocalypse and Romantic Representation , by Steven Goldsmith; 324 pp. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993, $19.95. Given the wealth of politically charged criticism in Romantic studies in die last decade, Steven Goldsmith's recent contribution is hardly original in exposing a literary tradition that has defined itself as apolitical and ahistorical. Unbuildingferusalem is refreshing nonetheless in citing the origins of "aesthetic ideology" in the Book of Revelation, and in subsequently understanding this ideology as political struggle rather than mere political conservatism. Part I of Unbuildingferusalem is concerned with the "building ofJerusalem," with the completion of the Christian canon in the writing of Revelation.John's vision of "the end of history" coincides with the creation of authoritative literary form, but this is no coincidence according to Goldsmith. Biblical canonization ensures a fixed source of power "no longer open to alteration" (p. 52), beyond the reach of historical change. Text is treated as divine truth and subsequently as a center of power, an ideology reinforced, Goldsmith shows, by scholarly interpretations of Revelation to this day. Such apocalyptic writing/criticism is a prescription, Goldsmith argues, "for inaction and consequently an endorsement of existing social order" (p. 131). Literary texts and criticism are political activities since their central gestures are gestures mirrored in politics. Those who trust in absolute textual authority, Goldsmith suggests, trust the absolute of an existing state. Thus the Romantic move to "unbuildJerusalem" (Part II) is multilayered: it challenges a literary form, a critical tradition, and a political structure. Ironically, it uses its own millenarianism to oppose apocalypse. Reading William Blake, Thomas Paine, Percy Shelley, and Mary Shelley, Goldsmith describes how the Romantic support ofemerging democracy is inscribed in the Romantic authors' very use of language. William Blake, for instance, calls attention to his text as text and thus replaces apocalypse with an awareness of representation which undermines fixed, static meaning or power. Nascent democracy is evident in the very emergence of this textual strategy. Apocalyptic canonization is challenged when texts argue with other texts: the politics of die French Revolution is thus evident not only in Jacobin rebellion against monarchy but in Thomas Paine's argument with Edmund Burke, in a written challenge to apocalyptic textual authority. A loosening of textual authority is a loosening of state authority, but Goldsmith is quick to point out that a democracy grounded in allowing a multiplicity of voices can also work against change. A system which believes "disempowerment and empowerment are essentially linguistic activities" (p. 201) is open to the Marxist critique that linguistic freedom denies and thus affirms oppression caused by democratic capitalism. Goldsmith offers postmodernism as a case in point. In understanding "Truth" or fixed meaning, Reviews163 postmodernism itself becomes an almost negative ahistorical trudi: apocalypse has come full circle in a new end to history in aesthetic relativism and the autonomy of form in theories of deconstruction. By placing texts in historical context and by reading apocalypse as political conflict, Goldsmith enacts his own theory of democratic criticism. He undercuts the possibility of absolute textual authority by giving two sides to an often one-sided discussion of Romantic ideology. The strength of form is not necessarily the weakness of politics as many have argued, but Goldsmith is careful to assert that no literature or criticism, including his own, can deny its working inevitably within the greater political context. Goldsmith's deconstructive reflexivity never quite answers whether literature and criticism make any political difference, yet Unbuildingferusalem raises a question necessary to the progress of Romantic studies in the relationship between literature and politics. If aesthetic form and politics have worked so strongly together in the past to maintain conservative regimes, how strongly have they also worked to challenge this conservatism? Perhaps understanding the political significance of the apocalyptic canon of the past can revitalize our own sense of political struggle in reforming the literary canon today. University of Massachusetts, AmherstJacqueline LeBlanc On the Translation ofNative American Literatures, edited by Brian Swann; xx & 478 pp. Washington, D.C: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993, $45.00 cloth, $19.95 paper. How can we talk about narratives from an oral tradition such as that of Native Americans? How can we read...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 162-163
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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