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What is Criticism?, edited by Paul Hernadi; xi & 329 pp. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981, $17.50. Discussed by Alfred Louch THIS book, like most anthologies, presents an obstacle to die reader and a challenge to the reviewer. It is not clear in the first place how to read it. I experimented with two methods, first reading it dirough, and then dipping into it here and there, and now and dien. Reading it the first way is unbearably repetitive, reading it the second is awfully thin. Since my dissatisfaction may have to do with form rather than content, I think it appropriate to preface my criticism with this caveat. Of the making of anthologies there appears to be no end. Some are parasitic on the idiosyncracies of instructors who know they cannot depend on students using the library, or on the library being useful. This sort of anthology seems to have had a previous vogue in Hellenistic times — those who seek signs of the decline of the West take note. The present volume, however, is an anthology of a different kind, unique to the twentieth century. It is a symposium manqué in which the contributors only appear to be talking to each other. Such endeavors have two strikes against them to start with, even when the symposiasts actually talk from the same platform. (Even real symposiasts more often than not only appear to be talking to each other.) So my remarks about this anthology may be colored by my prejudice against published proceedings of symposia manqué. Francis Sparshott opens this collection of responses to the question, what is criticism, with a warning to the other contributors: "It is not hard to say what criticism is, but most of the reasons for saying it are all bad reasons, and on the whole it is better not said" (p. 13). A number of the contributors ignore this rather deflating piece of advice, and chat on amiably, if somewhat vacuously, about the nature of the critical work, and its typology. The odd thing is that these contributions are obviously written by critics, even though as answers to the question what is criticism, they are not particularly enlightening. Philosophy and Literature Vol. 6 Nos. 1 and 2 Pp. 190-195 0190-0031/82/0061-0190 © 1982 by The Johns Hopkins University Press Alfred Louch191 That critics wrote them is obvious from the jargon. I doubt if that endlessly pliable and spongey term "discourse" fails to occur in any of these essays. Similarly, there is any amount of talk about "texts," though I have to applaud Herbert Lindenberger for saying, "I am even beginning to tire of the word 'text'" (p. 226). Anyway, if I had to say what I had learned from these answers, I would have to define criticism as (some kind of) discourse about some other kind of texts. All that would be missing from such a formula is an obligatory reference to ideology (undefined), to structuralism, deconstruction, an array of French proper names, and the coy use of the hyphen (as in "re-presentation"), disguising the truism, but not enriching it. There is even an essay (by Marie-Laure Ryan) that enlists the aid of John Searle's Speech Acts and David Lewis's Counterfactuals in defining the subject of criticism. This essay is particularly characteristic of the definers. They are, one sees, motivated by a lust for theory, and a conception of criticism as theoretical. Ryan supposes she can quote her sources as authorities. What they say is a blueprint for her own enterprise. But I think she and her sources are both mistaken. Years ago John Austin reminded an Aristotelian Society audience that not all language has the job of describing, even though it may be expressed in the indicative. At least some sentences are, in his words "performatives"; they do not describe something else going on, but are what is going on. Afterward, Austin (and Searle) were encouraged by that distinction to venture on a classification of utterances. This idea began as a reminder of some simple truths which a prevailing theory of meaning, of the mind, of philosophy, made it easy to overlook. To be reminded that "I...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 190-195
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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