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198Philosophy and Literature Uterature in die 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 the "definitive" view ofethics and literature, it does open up the subject in new and useful ways, and suggests many paths for exploration. Tulane UniversityGeoffrey Galt Harpham A World ofDifference, by Barbara Johnson; xvi & 225 pp. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1987, $24.50. Johnson's earlier book, TL· Critical Difference, examined the deconstructive concept of "difference" as it could be applied to literary texts. Oflate her work has considered the implications ofdeconstruction for feminist criticism and for female theories of discourse. A World ofDifference, then, constitutes an attempt "to transfer the analysis of difference out of its accustomed realm of linguistic universaüty or deconstructive allegory and into contexts in which 'difference' is very much at issue in the 'real world.' " The project depends upon the reader's tacit consent that such realms are possessed of institutional boundaries. This aUows us to proceed with a subject matter which "asks questions of difference as if 'differences between' had referential validity" (p. 2). A World ofDifference coUates what might otherwise be a heterogeneous set of Reviews199 essays and places them into four groups or "Parts of the World." Part One, "The Fate of Deconstruction," consists of pieces written in response to some of the polemics of deconstruction in its North American context. The first essay, "Nothing FaUs Like Success," asserts the need of any discourse based on the questioning of boundary lines to "never stop questioning its own" (p. 14), and is followed by other essays which confront the boundaries of deconstructive discourse: possible political functions ofundecidabüity or the fact that it is "not enough to be a woman writing in order to resist the naturalness of female effacement in the subdy male pseudogenderlessness of language" (p. 41). This section ends by placing deconstruction and feminism into a pedagogical context. In Part Two, "Significant Gaps," "the functioning of what is not known in literature or theory" (p. 4) is examined. The first essay takes the obscurity of Thoreau's symbols in Waiden, the lost hound, horse, and turtle dove, and demonstrates that what is lost is "always intensely particular. Yet it is known only in that it is lost" (p. 53). The great achievement of Waiden is to awaken a consideration of our own losses. In "MaUarmé and the Text of History" what is not known becomes, not obscurity, but erasure, whüe in the third chapter, "Teaching Ignorance: L'Ecole des femmes," Johnson sees the question of education in both Molière and Plato as not the transmission of knowledge...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 198-199
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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