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Reviews301 dow of the critic's own eye, which sometimes — often in contemporary criticism — sees its own figures instead ofthe artist's. To Be andNot to Be is thoughtful and thought-provoking. Universityof Pittsburgh, JohnstownCharles H. Clifton Structuralism or Criticism? Thoughts on How We Read, by Geoffrey Strickland; viii & 209 pp. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981, $44.50 (cloth), $12.95 (paper). The meeting of French theoretical abstraction and Anglo-American common sense has produced much heat and little light, but above all scores of texts. Add another to the list: Geoffrey Strickland's assessment of the challenge of French structuralism (by which is meant semiology as conceived by Barthes in the mid '60s) to traditional literary criticism (whose representative here is F. R. Leavis). Strickland begins by characterizing Barthes's efforts to develop "Saussure's notion of an all-embracing and self-explanatory theory of signs" (p. 26) and by suggesting that such a project must fail. Strickland finds decisive Benveniste's distinction between semiotic and semantic levels of linguistic analysis, which is based on the observation diat in language diere are a finite number of words (i.e., signs) but an infinite number of possible sentences. Signs may be formalized, Benveniste argues, but not the meanings that are generated by these signs, for they are contextually dependent. Hence, Strickland reasons, a universal semiology is impossible. Strickland regards Derrida's radical scepticism as an alternative to a positivistic semiology only if we cannot "know we are right when we say that we understand what someone is writing or saying" (p. 21), and in the central and longest section ofdie book he presents a theory of interpretation calculated to counter such scepticism. Strickland's position is essentially a modified version ofthat of E. D. Hirsch: interpretation is contextual, and hence evaluative, but capable of relative, if not absolute, certainty, and it presupposes an understanding of the writer's intention. In a closing section, Strickland offers detailed examinations of the works of Barthes and Leavis, concluding that Leavis should serve as a model for critics, both in his refusal to formalize his critical methods, and in his practice of evaluating a work in terms of its author's success in fulfilling his intentions. Strickland writes clearly, argues his points carefully, and generally characterizes the positions that he is challenging with accuracy and fairness. Yet for all his virtues, he leaves too many issues unexamined for Structuralism or Criticism? to be entirely satisfying. In his treatment of semiology Strickland makes no reference to the numerous studies in non-Saussurean semiology, and in his theory of reading he shows no awareness of the growing body ofreader-response criticism which bears direcdy on the issues that he examines . He finds the semiotic/semantic distinction useful in questioning semiology, but does not explore its possible radical consequences (as does Fish, for instance, in his recent essays). But most crucial is his failure to confront squarely die phantom opponent of his book: the poststructuralism of Derrida, Lacan, and Foucault. In his remarks on inten- 302Philosophy and Literature tionality (pp. 36-55), he touches poststructural concerns, but his restricted conception of the unconscious and of ideology preclude serious consideration of radical interpretations of Freud or Marx. He summarizes die historicist implications of Foucault^ early work, but argues that Foucaulfs findings are largely "unexceptionable" (p. 118). Strickland oudines Derrida's challenge to interpretive certainty on several occasions, yet never meets him on the same theoretical grounds. Strickland's objections to die positivistic strains in certain brands of semiology are well taken, but the central concern ofstructuralism and poststructuralism has been to question the conceptual priority of die subject in theorization, not to achieve objectivity in interpretation . Had Strickland focused on this concern, his responses to Barthes and French theory in general might have been more convincing. University of GeorgiaRonald L. Bogue A Critique ofModern Textual Criticism, by Jerome J. McGann; 146 pp. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983, $12.50. Despite the tide's promise, Jerome McGann's book is not a systematic methodological or epistemological critique, but a set of related essays on the concepts of authorial intention , its relationship to actual works of literature, and the effect...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 301-302
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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