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250Philosophy and Literature of values . . ." (p. 326). But it strikes me as adding a new facet to that framework, rather than amplifying what was already contained in previous statements. University of California, Santa CruzJohn M. Ellis New Directions in Literary History, edited by Ralph Cohen; pp. viii & 263. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974. $10.00. Ralph Cohen, the editor of New Literary History, has collected from that journal, now seven years old, a useful survey of the current revival of interest in literary history. The volume includes essays by eleven continental and American literary critics, a philosopher, and a novelist. It will sound curious to people unfamiliar with the concerns of literary theorists in this century to speak of a "revival" of interest in literary history. Certainly the study of literature from the past has always been prominent in scholarly publication and in the university curriculum. The main theoretical interest of our time, however, has been in the nature of literary form and the procedures of formal analysis. The number of fully developed theories of literary history, in English anyway, is surprisingly small. Therefore one would expect in a volume like this, not solutions to problems, but assessments of what the problems are and where answers may lie. And this is, in fact, what the volume contains. The first three essays, by Hans Robert Jauss, Robert Weimann, and D. W. Robertson, Jr., discuss in part the reasons for the neglect of literary history I have just mentioned. They also make proposals about the direction the current revival should take, and in doing so, they raise several central issues: What kind of coherence can a literary history have? How is this coherence discovered in surviving materials? How does one know what a work meant in its own time and why should one make the effort to know this? A number of the later essays speak to these issues, most explicitly those by Alastair Fowler, Geoffrey H. Hartman, Wolfgang Iser, and Michael Riffaterre. Several of these authors are important figures in the other main area of current critical theory: the theory of interpretation. Thus the volume illustrates how issues in the theories of literary history and of interpretation overlap and interact. Riffaterre's application of structuralist poetics to traditional problems of literary history—his claim for instance that "the fact that the same descriptive system appears in two texts does not prove influence" since what "counts is the use to which [the system] is put" (p. 149)—is a forcefully stated example of this interaction. It is likely that most of the problems literary historians ponder conceal philosophical problems, but, with a few exceptions, the essays do not deal directly with the concerns common to literature and philosophy. In her essay on what fiction represents, critic Barbara Herrnstein Smith is clearly joining Shorter Reviews251 a longstanding philosophical controversy. Fowler's essay on the historical life of literary forms might well interest philosophers who, like Nelson Goodman, regard art as something like a language and those who, like George Dickie, attempt an institutional analysis of art and criticism. Philosopher Louis O. Mink observes "that the task of philosophy is to make explicit the patterns of rational inference which inform complex thinking of all sorts" (p. 109) and explores how we understand narratives. Mink thinks through his argument before the reader more carefully than anyone else in the volume. The less satisfactory aspects of the volume stem largely from the state of the field. The collection has less coherence than Cohen indicates in his introduction. But, again, this is an area of critical theory where fresh starts are needed, and there is no reason that a survey of these starts should turn up a firm pattern. Some of the best essays seem too short, and one suspects that their authors were led by the critical void in the area to squeeze a book-length proposal into the space of an article. None of these problems of focus or scope detracts from the value of the collection. For critics or philosophers still unacquainted with this lively area of critical theory, the volume offers a suggestive introduction to the current issues in the field and to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 250-251
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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