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Reviews Philosophy in Literature: Metaphysical Darkness and Ethical Light, by Konstantin Kolenda; xii & 237 pp. Totowa, New Jersey: Barnes and Noble, 1982, $26.50. Konstantin Kolenda begins this study with a quotation from Auden's For the Time Being, lines prophesying or recognizing a wintry ending to the age in which we have lived, winter in the sense of the death ofour values and a growing doubt of the ability of natural science and its perspectives to give meaningful answers to the questions we would ask. In this dearth of answers, we need, Kolenda believes, to find ways of sharpening or refocusing our questions. History, philosophy, and die social sciences are available for this revised and renewed inquiry, Kolenda says, but the option of particular interest to him is what he calls "another form of thought: namely, literature" (p. ix). Is literature, imaginative literature, a form of thought? Not all philosophers have thus regarded it, with so eminent a figure as Plato among the deniers. Kolenda, himself a philosopher, believes with Aristotle in the cognitive role of imaginative literature. "In great works of art across the centuries of the Modern Age," he says, "are scattered statements about the human condition that express our highest expectations and deepest fears" (p. xi). The human condition, then, is the point of inquiry which Kolenda finds now shrouded in the "metaphysical darkness" of his tide; and his end of inquiry is to find in and through representative works of imaginative literature such "ethical light" as their authors have been able, with the vision of the creative imagination, to reach for us or provide to us. Nature and human nature conspire to bring about our metaphysical darkness. The ethical light of Kolenda's inquiry is the countervailing meaningfulness that humankind has within itself and that is the special human way of illuminating the metaphysical darkness. "The ability to introduce revisions into the state of affairs by taking a stand on them," Kolenda says, "may be perceived as man's calling on earth. Indeed, our special distinction and dignity may consist in our ability to shape our lives and destinies in ways we deem worthy and desirable, even under the most trying of circumstances" (p. 230). The passage I have quoted is from Kolenda's chapter on Rilke's Duino Elegies, the last of the twelve works of imaginative literature which Kolenda studies in this volume, the last and implicidy, I think, from Kolenda's point of view, the most ethically illuminating of the twelve. He groups the twelve under four categories for which he uses metaphors descriptive of the states and degrees of metaphysical darkness in which the respective authors seek for their ethical light. Under the category "Noon," Kolenda places Faust, Hamlet, The Brothers Karamazov; under "Twilight," Billy Budd, Heart ofDarkness, The Magic 128 Reviews129 Mountain; under "Night," The Stranger, No Exit, Waitingfor Godot; and under "Dawn," Four Çhiartets, the Duino Elegies, and Auden's For the Time Bang. Philosophy in Literature is a good, frequently profound, essentially noble book. Its interpretations of its twelve works, like all other interpretations, may be debatable; but the love of literature that guides its thought is exemplary — the love of literature and of ideas, the first, if not the final, fruits of philosophy. Whitman CollegeThomas D. Howells Literary Theory: An Introduction, by Terry Eagleton, viii & 244 pp. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983, $9.95 paperbound. Even many assiduous readers of mis journal are likely to be somewhat baffled by the multi-lateral civil wars (complicated by foreign interventions, mainly from France) which have plagued literary criticism in Anglo-America during the past fifteen or twenty years. These wars, of course, have their roots in earlier conflicts arising out ofthe battles ofonce Young Turks, such as I. A. Richards, F. R. Leavis, the American Agrarians, etc., against the sort of sentimental and biographical criticism which prevailed throughout the nineteenth century despite the best efforts of Matthew Arnold. Mr. Eagleton, a fellow in English at Wadham College, Oxford, has written an extraordinarily helpful book for those who would like to get clearer about parties and issues. He first establishes the historical context in a short and masterly chapter on the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 128-129
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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