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Text and Process in Poetry and Philosophy

From: Philosophy and Literature
Volume 9, Number 1, April 1985
pp. 1-20 | 10.1353/phl.1985.0121

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Text and Process in Poetry and Philosophy
Francis Sparshott
Victoria College
University of Toronto


1. A brief scan of the likely spots has not revealed these remembered words in Bradley's text; but their substance may be found in Appearance and Reality, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1897), p. 3.

2. Francis Sparshott, "On the Possibility of a General Theory of Literature," Centrum 3 (1975): 5-22; "On the Possibility of Saying What Literature Is," in Paul Hernadi, ed., What Is Literature? (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978), pp. 3-15.

3. Martin Jooss, oral communication. He did not elaborate, and I never ascertained the provenance, if any, of his lapidary contribution.

4. Steve Fuller suggests (in a letter, which I hope I have not misunderstood) that philosophical texts might be assigned a similar special, quasi-fictional status. One does not, after all, believe philosophical positions in the same way that one believes commonplace assertions; one entertains them, but in a special way, not quite as hypotheses, but rather as suggestions for regulating the mind — as philosophy, in fact.

5. I take this to be the chief lesson to be learned from Roland Barthes in S/Z, trans. Richard Miller (New York: Hill and Wang, 1974).

6. This is not to deny that there are forms of word use in which reading and writing are intimately related: copying, paraphrasing, translating. But a consideration of such activities should not lead us to obliterate the distinction between the reading and the writing that are related in them. When this paper was read to an audience, a questioner asked: "Is a translator reading or writing?" The question seemed fatuous. Why should he not be doing both? I suppose a translator reads one text and writes another closely related to it and dependent on it. Insofar as I am reading I do not have as target a second string of words, either as type or as token, distinct from the string I am reading.

7. Barthes's "pleasure of the text" comes closest; but his metaphor gives one pause (Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text, trans. Richard Miller [New York: Hill and Wang, 1975]). The idea is that one takes a quasi-sexual pleasure in enjoying the text. But a jouissance that takes no account of the personhood of the one whose body is enjoyed does not rank very high among values. See the text of the next paragraph.

8. See Jack Burnham, The Structure of Art (New York: Braziller, 1971).

9. Hans Robert Jauss, Toward an Aesthetic of Reception, trans. Timothy Bahti (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982).

10. Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, trans. Hazel Barnes (New York: Washington Square Press, 1966), pp. 517-27.

11. Barthes does not actually say, and certainly did not mean to say, what I make him say here. He seems to imagine the text as giving itself voluptuously to the reader. But there is no such thing that it does. It does nothing at all. At most, we can picture it as yielding itself to the reader, inertly complaisant, with no will of its own. It is hard to believe that Barthes thought of the implications of his metaphor. But to any reader sensitive to sexist overtones the text he produced has the manner of someone implausibly defending himself against a rape charge.

12. One recalls E. D. M. Fraenkel's expostulation to a student in an Aristophanes class: "Ach! You have the edition in usum Delphini, with all the undecent passages outcut!"

13. R. G. Collingwood, Principles of Art (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1938), p. 116; Mikel Dufrenne, The Phenomenology of Aesthetic Experience, trans. Edward S. Casey and others (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973), p. 31.

14. For my own contributions to this literature, see Francis Sparshott, "Philosophy and the 'Creative Process,'" West Coast Review, 1 (1966): 4-13; Looking for Philosophy (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1972), pp. 135-64; "Every Horse Has a Mouth," in Denis Dutton and Michael Krausz, eds., The Concept of Creativity in Science and Art (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1981), pp. 47-73.

15. Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence (New York: Oxford University Press...