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JEROME StOLNITZ "YOU CAN'T SEPARATE THE WORK OF ART FROM THE ARTIST" This, ? argue, all too familiar certitude, having survived several decades of intensive theoretical rebuttal, continues to dominate literary theory and criticism. I therefore take a different tack. The theoretical rebuttal has abstracted from the critical literature the meanings of the certitude it has taken as its targets. This is a gain in generality which escapes Socrates' objections to examples. What is lost, however, in removing the discussion from particular first-order studies, is die concrete deployment of the certitude, wherein we see most clearly why it commends itself to critics doing their job. Hence my alternative . I select a single literary biography which is grounded in the certitude. The objections are mitigated by choosing a work that is, in its scholarship, thoroughness, and astuteness, exemplary. An Aunt Sally won't do. There is a second, quite different argument for my undertaking. The last decade has seen the massive and, speaking strictly, unprecedented development ofcritical theory and practice which simply negate the above formula. The work can be, and is, separated from its author. The critic is not constrained, normatively , historically, or, we might add, morally by the writer. Whatever the cogency or longevity ofthis development, it is symptomatic. It evidences the gap between certitude and certainty. Even in an age avid for novelties, it is unlikely that these iconoclasms could have so quickly taken over large sectors of the critical profession, had the conventional wisdom owned the substance diat would warrant its plausibility and its endurance. The biographical approach to literature is the archetype of such wisdom. Consider, now, the conceptual rigor of this approach. Joseph Frank — no Aunt Sally he, a distinguished cride, the first volume of whose life of Dostoevsky ' has been as widely acclaimed as any literary biography in'recent years. His announcement of his purpose is considered and appealing. Since it is the art that makes an author worthy of biography, Frank 209 210PHILOSOPHY AND LITERATURE will not, in contrast to most biographers, narrate all details of the writer's life. Frank will, instead, select only those details which "have some critical relevance — only . . . those that help to cast some light on his books" (p. xii), though there immediately follows: "My work is thus not a biography ... for I do not go from the life to die work, but rather the other way round" (p. xii). These statements are too much like a contradiction to be taken as such. Perhaps they are best taken as monitory, suggesting some sort of circularity in Frank's procedure. He leaves, however, no doubt diat his "purpose is to interpret Dostoevskys art . . ." (p. xii). So his epigraph from Ortega y Gasset, which reads, in part: "Criticism is not biography. . . . [The] critic is expected to provide in his work all the . . . aids which will enable the ordinary reader to receive the most intense and clearest possible impression of die book" (p. 2). Frank records, among the details of Dostoevskys childhood, that the family's summer residence was near a wood whose name is mat of a wood in The Devils and that young Fyodor was fond of hedgehogs, an animal mentioned sympadietically in The Idiot. These and similar trivia have no interpretive use but they show how Frank moves "from die work to die life" in singling out events in die life. These and like details also illustrate, still quite trivially, a view, common among other biographers, which Frank reprobates, viz. , diat the elements in the novels are "photographic" reproductions of die author's life (p. 8). Frank's criticism of his fellows, widi which he is only innocuously inconsistent in mentioning these facts, is, again, persuasive, though it must merefore raise doubts concerning a fair amount of literary biography. We need to see, however, how his own treatment differs from the "photographic" when he gets down to cases. Frank moves from the deep sympathy in the novels for those who lack social position and power to die predicament of the Dostoevsky family diroughout the audioes youth. Since his parents, particularly his father, aspired to a status diat was always denied diem, a sense of social inferiority infected...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 209-221
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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