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154Philosophy and Literature Antithetical Essays in Literary Criticism and Liberal Education , by Hazard Adams; xi & 292 pp. Tallahassee: Florida State University Press, 1990, $29.95 cloth, $19.95 paper. Hazard Adams has written interestingly and well on Blake and Yeats; many of us have either assigned The Contexts of Poetry to our undergraduate classes or cribbed from it; he has over the years effectively set forth his critical tenets without being intoxicated by his own cleverness or becoming an epigone simply Englishing continental hierophants. Set against the expectations engendered by Adams's achieved status, Antithetical Essays is both worthy and a bit self-indulgent, stimulating and yet troubling . Every one of the seventeen essays (five of which are direcüy, and several indirecdy, concerned with education) is attractively written, thoughtful, and illuminating; the self-indulgence resides in the amount of repetition of ideas and instances which, in cases like this, can be avoided only by refashioning each originally separate essay as a chapter or section of a newly articulated booklength argument. Leaving aside many a cogent insightinto Blake, Yeats,Joyce, literary criticism, and the academy generally, the armature around which the majority of these essays is constructed is a mode of thought that Adams derives from Blake. Very briefly, Adams seeks to go beyond oppositions or "negations" like good/ evil or subject/object to find "contraries" which recognize that things may retain their identity while remaining in a necessarily mutual association with each other. Language, argues Adams, recognizes these mutual relations through tropes—metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony all announce relationships in which, rather than one thing "standing for" another, two things are interrelated. Synecdoche, which he understands not simply as a part representing a whole but as a microcosm reflecting a macrocosm, is Adams's favorite trope. In these essays synecdoche becomes at times a maid of all work, usurping activities that others might reasonably ascribe to metaphor or analogy, and whether a contrary always exists outside or beyond a negation, and how it might differ from a Hegelian synthesis, is left problematic. However, as heuristic principles Adams's notions of contraries and synecdoches work well. New perspectives on ossified or warring interpretations of either texts or social issues are welcome even when oddly labeled or overstated, and Adams's knowledge and abilities guarantee that his commentaries will be stimulating. However, the difference between the intellectual delights of reconciling, synthesizing , or pluralistically entertaining conflicting interpretations of poems, novels, plays, and essays and the difficult business of making political, social, and economic choices between available alternatives never appears so chasmlike as when one tries to explain precisely how that difference is to be bridged. Thus one is likely to applaud Adams's expressed values while feeling uneasily Reviews155 that they are insufficiendy grounded and too far removed from either immediate practical or ultimate ethical choices. As a mundane example, Adams challenges the way universities tend to match departmental budgets to enrollments, and certainly most English departments have particular reason to lament such academic economics. However, hardpressed provosts and deans can avoid this sort of accounting only if they can be shown convincing alternative criteria. The question that cannot be shirked is how to determine a reasonable size for programs in, say, biochemistry, classics, physics, philosophy, and English. What is the "contrary" to the usual budget juggle? Much more troubling is Adams's essay on Cassirer in which, while defending Cassirer's thought, he specifically refuses to reject the Heideggerian philosophy he regards as its opposite. Closing with a commentary on the 1929 debate at the end ofwhich Heidegger refused to shake Cassirer's proffered hand, Adams goes so far as to remind us that Cassirer was Jewish and that Heidegger has been accused of Nazi sympathies. Nevertheless Adams tries to hold to what he sees as a conflict of contraries neither of which is to be repudiated. But it won't do—the question that has to be answered is not the degree to which Heidegger personally condoned the Nazi regime and program, but whether his philosophical position allows or inclines one who holds it to accept prejudice, hatred, and ultimately genocide. Which leads one to the question ofthe source or...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 154-155
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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