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298Philosophy and Literature Susan Handelman writes fascinatingly on Derrida's relationship to die tradition of Jewish commentary on the Old Testament in which revisionary interpretations are possible because language is regarded as the essence of reality. Thus "the passion to displace origins, the Jewish heretic hermeneutic, surfaces in Derrida, who places a radical unintelligibility at die origin ofhis thought" (p. 125). The late Paul de Man's essay finds in Hegel's Aesthetics a ground for believing that poets and philosophers must forget that the figures at die heart of their writings are not discoveries but tiieir own artificial structures that nevertheless can undo usurped political authority. Michael Ryan argues against "liberal Reason" — essentially the "reason" of Descartes — by attacking the contradictions ofits founding metaphors (which those familiar withJohn Stuart Mill may diink he exaggerates ) and pointing out (p. 158) diat "the institutions ofliberal social dieory" are "discursive fictions" — which may strike die many who think all institutions created by discourse as an argument diat proves too much. Finally, Gayatri Spivak explores the extent to which Derrida's deconstruction of"phallocentrism" can serve as guide to women engaged in rewriting traditionally male discourse; it is, she finds, encouraging but "caught on the odier side of sexual difference" (p. 184). The book elicits several major questions. One is whether the term "displacement" around which this volume is organized is not employed so variously as to be simply a fashionable flag rather than a useful working term. My sense that it is forced to try to do too much is die reason I have avoided it thus far. We find, for instance, that "displacement " can mean the Derridean reversal of a hierarchy and "dislodging" of a system, and thus is opposed to Hegel's "sublation" (pp. 1 and 2), emphasis on the marginal (p. 3), a substitution for somediing else (p. 3), "transformation" as opposed to "translation" (p. 4), exile from certitude (p. 5), placement in a new context (p. 5), both Freudian Verschiebung and Einstellung (p. 6), a decentering (p. 9), inflection (p. 11), negation ofthought (p. 1 1), a violent intervention or shaking (p. 12), a looking away from (p. 24), metaphor (p. 36), the construction of a barrier, Em "ob-scene" (p. 63), a forgetting (p. 64), textual commentary (p. 95), a transfer, as of property rights (p. 137), and the rhetorical process ofcomparison (p. 256). A second question is whetiier one of the merits of the present collection is not the reinforcement of the heretical, scandalous, perhaps even displacing suspicion among those skeptical of the value of deconstruction as an intellectual enterprise diat Derrida's great achievement is essentially stylistic, that language and philosophy are simply topics sufficiendy abstract so that his word play need never collide widi extralinguistic experience. Pennsylvania State UniversityWendell V. Harris Signs Taken for Wonders: Essays in the Sociology of Literary Forms, by Franco Moretti; translated by Susan Fischer, David Forgacs, and David Miller; 273 pp. London: Verso Editions and NLB, 1983, $25.00 hardbound, $9.95 paper. This is a frustrating book. Not so much because it is a collection ofonly vaguely related essays, but radier because normal criteria for evaluating criticism do not seem to apply. If we compare one of Moretti's essays to another, there is no question that diey are uneven, Reviews299 but if one is forced to evaluate the volume as a whole, one is reduced to likes and dislikes. Those who worship in Moretti's critical church will like it. Those who don't, won't. To situate Moretti's approach, one might think back to die "philological circle" which Leo Spitzer employed to find parallel historical and linguistic structures, then add a generous measure of Freud and Marx (or Lukács) and move the emphasis from literature to society. The "signs" of die title are, according to die jacket, "literary systems that are tokens of wider cultural and political realities." Not surprisingly, Moretti is more of a historian than a rhetorician, more of a sociologist than a critic. In the first chapter, Moretti suggests that a history of literature in die guise of "a sociology of symbolic forms, a history of cultural conventions, should perhaps finally...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 298-299
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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