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Reviews113 disparate projects, could provide the intelligibility of this strangest moment, when what has been denigrated returns; only these disparate writings could create such possibilities of pleasure, of understanding and renewal" (p. 124). University of OregonSteven Rendall The Incredulous Reculer: Literature and the Function of Disbelief, by Clayton Koelb; 240 pp. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984, $19.50. In identifying a genre which he calls "lethetic," Koelb sees it as using the reader's disbelief as a necessary part of the reading process — contrary to Coleridge 's notion of "suspension of disbelief." "My subject, then," he says, "is the function of disbelief as an integral part of the process of reading literature" (p. 28). Lethetic fiction resists interpretation that would link it to some truth; it is stubbornly nonmimetic and nonteleological. It is fiction where disbelief is solicited, where the world of language is sovereign, where there is no action to imitate — only the actions of language. This genre is logomimetic, a realm where reality is language. The effects of language in performance constitute the meaning, not the propositional content. Koelb offers such examples as Aristophanes' The Birds, or Mann's The Transposed Heads, where we have die liberated nonsense of a figure of speech being taken literally. Wilde's The Importance ofBeing Earnest is presented as lethetic drama, a world of self-referential or logomimetic language where a man can be the descendant of a handbag — where the word is a perfectly good substitute for actuality. The incredulous reader knows it is a game. Koelb calls the contrasting mode "aletiietic"; it is obviously the dominating mode ofwestern culture. In tracing it back to Plato, Koelb comes close to wrecking his case for lethetic reading by making Plato seem cogent and reasonable. To shorten, perhaps crudely: Plato sees the ultimate power of speech as truth; whether language is shaped as fiction, myth, or allegory, its aim is to reflect truth. The audience has the obligation of responding to the paternal logos, of interpreting, of finding the truth. The poets, as Socrates said, are the interpreters of the gods. This sacralization of fiction was continued by the "bibliocentrism " ofJudaism and Christianity and beyond to modern times. Koelb's rhetoric would persuade us that lethetic fiction and lethetic reading should be recognized as valid and ofimmense value, in spite ofthe hegemony of the alethetic mode. 1 14Philosophy and Literature The most troubling question: is there indeed such a thing as lethetic fiction — logomimetic, self-referential, a self-contained game sealed off from reality? He offers ítalo Calvino's Cosmicomics as a prime example, but in my reading of Calvino he is persistently referential: quarreling lovers, murderous chases, etc. Koelb's claim that Calvino is "not really interested in the theories themselves, or in their scientific truth" (p. 160), strikes me as very questionable. True, he plays some weird games, but they keep pointing to interesting propositions and "truths." Is it even possible to use language without arousing the desire to find some commerce between symbol and reality? To try to nullify the referential thrust of language may be like trying to extract sunbeams from cucumbers in Lagado. Grant that logomimesis is to some degree possible. Why go to such lengths to obliterate a major pleasure in linguistic structures, or to thwart what Aristotle saw as our natural pleasure in mimesis? Koelb's description of Robert Nye's Merlin succeeds mainly in suggesting that Merlin probably offers the same purgatorial tedium as Barthelme's The Father. Calvino's closest approach to the ledietic ideal, the section "t zero" manages to anesthetize all latent interest. What is the point in creating these black holes of boredom? Nevertheless, Koelb deserves high praise for critical writing that goads and unsetdes the mind. When the reader frequendy yearns to have Koelb trapped in the same room so that he can sputter "but, but . . .,"he knows that this is what criticism should be — a boiling dialogue. I enjoyed being irritated by this book. Whitman CollegeWalter E. Broman Romantic Weather: The Climates of Coleridge and Baudelaire, by Arden Reed; xiii & 338 pp. Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, for die Brown University Press, 1984, $27.50. Clearly this...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 113-114
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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