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Reviews1 1 1 Yet for all the logical connections betweenJames and phenomenology, Armstrong 's study is only partially satisfying. While the parallels he draws are convincing , they tend to remain just that — parallels. The interdisciplinary approach as such produces few insights into James's work that have not already been deduced without the phenomenological apparatus. In fact, Armstrong's paralleling sometimes seems an exercise in critical translation, a kind of linguistic mystification in which the lucidity of the text is clouded with pretentious philosophical jargon. Consider, for example, these not atypical phrases: "Maggie transcends the transcendence of her existential captors, objectifying the subjectivities that had objectified her . . ." (p. 171); or, "The 'anomal/ of Osmond's and Madame Merle's 'relative position' is a 'gestalt shift' for Isabel — a rearrangement in the order of things contrary to her perceptual expectations because it is discontinuous with the way the world ordinarily reveals itself ..." (p. 122): i.e., Maggie and Isabel wised up. James always suffers in translation, but this kind of verbal embalmment suggests a deeper problem: Armstrong's uncritical absorption of the assumptions and vocabulary of phenomenology and his selective application of its concepts to James's thought and art. Did James believe exclusively that no fixed principles extrinsic to personal experience had credence? Did he believe that only experience was determinative of character? Or was there a strain of fatalism in his thought, an intuition of certain "givens" in human nature? The answers seem far more complicated than Armstrong's use ofphenomenology suggests. James may indeed be a phenomenologist, but he is not only a phenomenologist. A more discriminating treatment would have proven less tractable, but more illuminating . That Armstrong has not achieved this is particularly unfortunate because, once the critical language is decoded, what he has to say about the fiction is on the whole sensible and perceptive. Whitman CollegeJohn F. Desmond Roland Barthes, by Jonathan Culler; 130 pp. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983, $19.95 cloth, $5.95 paper. Unlike other recent studies of Barthes — e.g., those of Annette Lavers (1982) and Steven Ungar (1983) — Culler's seeks not to trace the development of a career but to describe and assess Barthes's varied contributions to contemporary intellectual life. Barthes projected such a strong personality that it is very tempting to see his different projects as its expressions and to explain them 1 1 2 Philosophy and Literature through a narrative of personal evolution. But as Culler notes, "if one is to read Barthes at all, one must confront the fundamental question of how to take his ideas. Barthes's admirers repeatedly court the risk of trivializing his works by making them the expressions of a desire rather than arguments to be pondered, developed or contested; and Barthes himself encourages this by mocking his past procedures" (pp. 14-15). Culler examines Barthes as a "man of parts" — literary historian, mythologist, critic, polemicist, semiologist, structuralist, hedonist, writer, man ofletters. The chapters dealing with each of these facets of Barthes's production are wellinformed , judicious and— as usual with Culler — very clearly written. If his book is topically organized, however, the order of the topics remains largely chronological, so that his assessment is shadowed after all by the conception of a career. Anyone concerned with Barthes's career must face the moral or political problem of his writing in the 1970s. For some Barthes's emphasis on "pleasure" and on the individual in his later work is a betrayal almost as unpalatable as Heidegger 's collaboration with the Nazis. While Culler's discussion of these texts is not wholly hostile, he is obviously bothered by Barthes's "hedonism," and repeatedly warns that it can easily be taken, and has been, as a reaffirmation of the very myths Barthes once challenged. Culler's concern is not unwarranted, but should be considered in the context of his own commitments. Structuralism may be only one moment in Barthes's career, but for Culler it is the most important. He suggests that when Barthes declares his antipathy toward reductive systems, he "seems to forget the strategic function of systems in preventing one from falling back into the unperceived, 'natural' stereotypes of one...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 111-113
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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