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Reviews197 content of the missing volume or the way the author's critical mind was functioning at the time, and no significant attempt is made to interpret these notes. Maybe the publication ofthe complete set (130 pages) will one day enable critics to investigate the innumerable enigmas it is bound to contain. But in aU fairness we must admit that this issue compares well with the high standard ofscholarship one has been accustomed to expect from the Yale French Studies series. University of AucklandPierre Petit Find You tL· Virtue: Ethics, Image, and Desire in Literature, by Irving Massey; 288 pp. Fairfax, Virginia: George Mason University Press, 1987, $27.50. Just as idiosyncratic and passionate as the author's previous works (TL· Unseating Word and TL· Gaping Pig), Irving Massey's new book, Find You the Virtue, has the additional virtue of addressing a problem of increasing current interest in literary and phüosophical communities. Each of the nine chapters mounts a new argument, but the entirety constitutes a sustained act of attention to the detaüs of fictional, mythic, poetic, musical, and theoretical texts, perhaps the most moving of which is the discussion of "Yiddish Poetry of the Holocaust." The book exemplifies as weU as endorses an "ethics of particularity," a compassionate , worldly tolerance of the "dissociation" and "disorder" represented by images, by the flow of language, by Jews. At the core of this ethic is the notion of the image as an excess of meaning, a linguistic "Eden" that can be apprehended in the moment-to-moment verbal flow, the nonretrospective, even noninterpretive site of difference cultivated especially by poetry. The momentary respite from time in the suddenness of understandingcan also occur, however, within the sentence, as a force disrupting grammar and the synthesizing operations grammar presupposes and rewards. For Massey, this perpetual possibility of presence in the undoing of grammar constitutes both the poetic and the ethical, both of which must be conceived as a loss of self, the relinquishing of pretense or ambition. This argument culminates in the chapter on "The Effortless in Art and Ethics," where Massey argues that ethics is achieved not by effort, direction, or purpose, but by a kind of grace. A "nonlaborious space in the mind," a "pure substrate of act," can be approached through dreams, "negative capabUity," certain poetic figures or the happy circumstance of luck. But this serendipitous mood is constandy subjected to the stern correction of its other, a severe, even harsh post-Holocaust realism about the efficacy of 198Philosophy and Literature Uterature in the task of improving the world. The first requirement of good reading is, for Massey, a wUlingness to accept punishment. "If literature has any lesson," he writes, "it is that there is never enough punishment." And insofar as we read weU, we recognize that "the lessons of the book are directed against ourselves" rather than the fictional characters who seem to learn or deny them. In effect, readers must become Jews, who, Massey comments, "cannot afford the luxury" of the absolute, and must wish for no more than the relative, than the ethical. Far from being the focus of ethical energy, fiction testifies to "the weakness of an incomplete ethical order"; it yearns for the mythical violence from which it has barely emerged, and at the same time suggests the ethical "effortlessness" it cannot achieve. Only a "minor by-product thrown off by the victory of the ethical" over the mythic, fiction remains beset by "uncertainties, weaknesses, and distinctively unethical implications." Massey provides a tonic resolution of two current exaggerations in contemporary ediical tiieory. In his view, phUosophers such as Stuart Hampshire and Bernard WiUiams promote a view of ethics as an enlightened cultivation of the pleasure principle, a view both describe as Aristotelian. On die other hand, HiUis MiUer and John Rajchman refer to Paul de Man and Jacques Lacan in developing what they portray as an ethic that completes the work of Kant, moving decisively beyond the pleasure principle. In Massey's work, both of these orientations are given voice, but the copresence of them reveals each to be a kind ofwish, or fiction. WhUe Massey's work is too unsystematic to provide...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 197-198
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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