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Reviews209 "A Counterpoint of Dissonance": The Aesthetics and Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, by Michael Sprinker; ? & 149 pp. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980, $10.95. The interest of this innovative study stems as much from its author's efforts to chart his own critical bearings as it does from his often provocative readings of Hopkins's poems, though of course these are hardly unrelated concerns. In line with some of our most vital current criticism, Sprinker is drawn toward the opposing perspectives exemplified by Harold Bloom's psychic-rhetorical model andJacques Derrida's idea of encompassing textuality . In fact, Sprinker's attempt to bridge the gap between these psychological and linguistic approaches both lends his writing a sense of urgency and accounts for the fact that this book happily raises as many questions as it answers. For Sprinker a poem is both the "representation of the psyche" and a "linguistic moment"; "poems originate and play out their tragic contradictions in the dialectic between these two aspects.of writing" (p. 123). Likewise, Hopkins's own aesthetic theory (which is the primary focus of this book, as the subtitle indicates) anticipates "important strains in contemporary poetics," especially the "more recent deconstructive theories" (p. 21). Hopkins is a "particularly apt instance of the grammatological double bind exposed by Derrida" (p. 3). Measuring Hopkins's relationship with nineteenth-century language theory and French Symbolism, Sprinker concludes that "Hopkins's poetry is neither immanential nor incarnational . . . [but rather] the structuration of language" (p. 64). Beyond mimesis, "The Windhover," for instance, is "not about a bird at all" but about the literary birds of Romantic tradition (p. 6). The flight of the bird in the poem "is an allegorical representation of the poet's own struggle with language in writing poetry" (p. 12). Such rigorous efforts to avoid foreclosing the meaning of a poem with a perceptual referent, however, tend to be compromised when Sprinker follows Bloom's psychic model too faithfully. Bloom leads Sprinker to a "scene of instruction" which involves a quest for "selfrealization " that "demands a ceaseless revision" of self at "enormous psychic cost to the poet" (pp. 137-38) — to all poets since Milton and increasingly to modern poets. Stressing (or overstressing) Hopkins's modernity, Sprinker proceeds to fit the "diminishing" arc of Hopkins's career (p. 99) into Bloom's myth of the declining Sublime and in the process to dilute the full reach of Derrida's double bind and Hopkins's own struggle with the problematic of language and representation. Patly situated in Bloom's system, Hopkins simply recapitulates the "separation of the poetic self from the empirical self [which] is, Bloom argues, the dominant force in all poets since Milton" (p. 4). From this perspective, Hopkins must lose in his "struggle with the demon of his poetic self" (p. 138), and his last poems, as expected, do indeed "evoke the Miltonic specter who dominates and finally subdues them" (p. 144). This is a stimulating and suggestive book, but not the book in which to trace the "joyful" Hopkins of the "nature sonnets" or to "celebrate the glorious oozings of 'God's Grandeur" (p. 120). Sprinker is at his best when he is engaged with the grammatological perspectives of Bloom the rhetorician, of Derrida, Paul de Man, or the later Hillis Miller or Geoffrey Hartman. Sprinker is more predictable when he too strictly follows his plan to position Hopkins within the "melancholy fate of the moderns" (p. 18) in order to accommodate the 210Philosophy and Literature Bloomian psychodrama. Then tjiere is a tendency to make too much of "harshness and sterility" as Hopkins's "most important" themes (p. 3) and to celebrate the "winter world" of Hopkins's last period "as his most glorious, not for the poetic successes he achieved, but for the futility he so passionately strove to overcome" (p. 129). Pennsylvania State UniversityR. D. Ackerman After the New Criticism, by Frank Lentricchia; xiv & 384 pp. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980, $20.00. This is an irritating and disappointing book. Lentricchia has the knowledge and control of abstractions necessary for his task — "an exposition and evaluation of the course of critical theory" in America for the past two...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 209-210
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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