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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 decades (p. xi). Moreover he gives a powerful analysis of one basic tension in modern theory — that the efforts to define how art is creative run the risk of identifying art with formalist aestheticism. Aesthetic autonomy, in turn, seems to sustain existential attitudes based on similar gulfs between subjective freedom and all that determines or constrains such "freedom." Lentricchia, however, falls all too easily into the competing role of self-righteously opposing to such illusions his own single, gritty, demystified stance which appeals to structuralist models in order to capture the forces that actually constitute the subject and contain it within the play of social and political forces. Such noble stances are all too prone to replace argument. Lentricchia writes about theory while avoiding the issue (and constraints) of what theory is, so that most of his evaluations depend on either using Derridian themes as assertions or invoking slogans about history explicitly defended only in a horribly muddled attempt to link Derrida with a Foucault, whom Lentricchia "chooses" to read (p. 207) as showing how historical contexts are open to determinacy (pp. 193, 207-10). This would be less debilitating if Lentricchia were content to offer expositions that either satisfied conventional historical ideals or exemplified his own view of history. But Lentricchia has little concern for the specific shape of a theorist's career as he works through and into problems; nor does he provide much social and political context (except a rhetoric of alienation). Instead we get an inquisition, with almost every theorist proved to be guilty of aestheticist formalism. Any emphasis on reflective consciousness will convict of heresy, since in this court a naive faith mat all reason is to be read in terms of a struggle for power (p. 154) vitiates any respect for the pursuit of self-knowledge or alternate communities, or, above all, for envisioning literature as educating the imagination. When evaluation so determines exposition , we get little sense of what actually shaped individual concerns or wielded influence. Instead we get readings typified by arguments that Frye's later work does not develop the organizing ideas of his "Polemical Introduction" but only waters down its formalism (p. 30). Wallace Stevens's sense offictions becomes nothing more than aesthetized evasions of reality and Kant's aesthetics are confidently viewed as a pure formalism. There is no sense of the tension in Kant between pure creation and the attachments of poetry to materials of the understanding. In fact, while Lentricchia seems at home in the idealist tradition, he Reviews211 lacks a dialectical imagination and ignores the complex ways idealist aestheticians try to integrate the spirit which gives rules to nature with the demands of the substance which is its subject. On phenomenology the same blinders appear. Lentricchia emphasizes the role of negation in Sartre's imagination, but not the effort to conceive the novel as adapting imagination to ethical purposes. And Lentricchia simply subsumes under Husserl's idealism other influential phenomenological attempts like Richard's and Bachelard's to explore ways of inhabiting the world through imagination. Finally while Lentricchia wants to use the structuralist tradition, he mangles Derrida into a social thinker, reduces Yale deconstructionism to the simplest statements of Miller's existential anxieties, relies on Saussure without sufficient defense, and ridicules on purely political ground Culler's powerful argument that structure must be tied to function. There is a good reading of Heidegger, and the second less polemical half of the book devoted to Hirsch, Krieger, Bloom, and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 210-211
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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