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212Philosophy and Literature extreme lying at a pole opposite a (happily now defunct) logical positivism. There is a plague dancing freely about the intellectual landscape and (twisting John Blight's words to suit): "The angel of death has been abroad throughout the land; you may almost hear the beating of his wings." Bruner's excellent work is likely to be taken most seriously by those prone to abusing narrative's extreme; in itselfit is readable, informative, and thoughtful . Bruner negotiates his artfully liberal meanings well. Whitman CollegeJoseph J. Maier Literature and Ethics: Essays Presented to A. E. Malloch, edited by Gary Wihl and David Williams; xv & 151 pp. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1988, $29.95. Literary criticism has experienced of late a veritable explosion of interest in ethics. Uterature and Ethics tries to insert itself into this context but does not succeed, because it provides no idea of what the relation between literature and ethics mightbe. Its nine contributors include GaryWihl onWilliam Empson, Dean Frye on custom in Hamlet, Leslie Duer on portraits and the narrative impulse, Elaine Bander on Jane Austen, Maggie Berg on Luce Irigaray, David Williams on intention in Chaucer, C. Abbot Conway on Boethius, Donald Theall on James Joyce, and David Braybrooke on academic tenure. Only five of the essayists, however, discuss ethics, and their treatment is largely superficial. Gary Wihl tries in the preface to present the volume as a statement on ethics, but the book as a whole makes no genuine contribution to the problem. Wihl's engineering of the ethical theme relies rather heavily on a quasi-deconstructive rhetoric, in which ethics and the imperative of linguistics define each other. Thus, he argues that ethics "in literary criticism is a matter of defining the limits . . . and structures of a discourse" (p. viii), and that plagiarism indicates not the dishonesty of the writer but "a general impoverishment of discourse" (p. ix). The problem, of course, is that when one describes ethics as a defining of limits, one provides no principle by which such limits may be set, and this is precisely the issue for deconstruction, for it considers order and consistency as abuses of authority. This principle is borne out in Wihl's contribution to the volume. He describes two contradictory impulses within William Empson's theories: Empson, the pragmatist, desires to define the ethical in terms of consensus, but Empson, the protodeconstructor, understands that consensus must be called into question . In the end, of course, "the normative cannot be said to differ from the aberrant" (p. 12), so any serious attempt to define ethics must be abandoned. Reviews213 What, then, is Empson's value? We are encouraged to admire "Empson's benevolent ethical spirit" (p. 14) and, perhaps, to imitate his "critical blindness" in the hope of becoming benevolent ourselves. The remaining four contributions on the topic, with the exception of Conway 's, are scarcely more successful. Bander writes on the uses of silence inJane Austen. She locates the silent sources of morality in observation, reflection, and judgment, arguing that Austen's interest in conversational pauses reveals a desire to resist authority. But she has no understanding of the relation between judgment and authority in Austen. Berg attempts to bring literary critics out of Plato's cave by teaching them what Luce Irigaray has to say about ethical resistance, but, most unfortunately, she does not even make reference to Irigaray 's book on ethics, LEthique de h différence sexuelle. Berg predictably links Irigaray with the forces ofplurality against the unity of phallocentric discourse. Charles Abbot Conway makes to my mind the sole contribution to literary ethics in his article on Boethius. He traces the symbolismbywhich Boethius interpreted the ethical, explaining his view of the virtue of perfect numbers in contrast with the vice of superabundant ones and of how geometry was used to establish territorial boundaries in order to maintain the peace among quarrelsome nomads . Conway's conclusion that Boethius's organization of the arts writes a secret allegory of a "model kingdom or polity" (p. 104) deserves to be applied in general to formalist theories of language and literature, for it might reveal a secret ethical agenda in even the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 212-213
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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