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Reviews141 Papers, but the possibility that there might be some divergence or tension between those papers and the lectures is not considered, except for the internal undecidabilities that deconstructive readers always seem to feel obliged to find spread homogeneously through any corpus. Selective quotation is Felman's basic technique, and such inconveniences as Austin's very conservative views on truth, his belief in the efficacy of convention, and his attitude that philosophy should be a cooperative, progressive enterprise are ignored. Someone who knew nothing about Austin's work would not know much more about it after reading The Literary Speech Act. There are, nevertheless, two features that make Felman's book worth reading. The analysis of Molière's play in terms of speech acts is effective and serves, along with Stanley Fish's analysis of Coriolanus in "How To Do Things with Austin and Searle," to suggest that the field of drama criticism, somewhat neglected by literary theory, could profit from speech-act theory. She is also right in insisting that the big literature on Austin (deconstructive or otherwise) has not done justice to the playfulness and irony of his writing style. What she fails to do is draw believable consequences from this insight: she ends up comparing Austin to Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and Lacan, a tribute that simultaneously overinflates his achievement and fails to do it justice. I have no criticism to offer here of deconstruction. It has established itself as a useful way of reading. But The Literary Speech Act shows us something about deconstruction that we should have known all along: any way of reading can fail if it is pursued thoughtlessly. Columbia UniversityDavid Gorman Interpretive Conventions: The Reader in the Study ofAmerican Fiction , by Steven Mailloux; 228 pp. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1982, $18.50. Question: How are conventions constituted? Answer: Get some whores and some nameplates. My tasteless wordplay connects two significant areas of recent literary theory: the institutional forces (e.g., professional meetings) and the forces of convention or "shared practices " in interpretation. Steven Mailloux also connects them, analyzing the institution of editing along with theoretical issues in order to provide a "temporal and convention-based reading model for the study of American fiction" (p. 64). Two twentieth-century master-editors considered textual scholarship to be an enterprise without absolute principles: W. W. Greg thought emendation more an art than a science; A. E. Housman regarded editing as picking fleas offa dog rather than as puzzlesolving . Mailloux, however, combines the resources of speech-act theory, Rezeptions ästhetik, and reader-response theory in a failed attempt to determine aesthetic principles for editorial decisions, principles based on cases where an author's final revision is somehow suspect. 142Philosophy and Literature Not wholly misguided, the attempt covers interesting territory. A convincing pedagogical appendix, for instance, advocates reader-response approaches to composition strategies. Basically, Mailloux proposes a "view of reading with a social model of intention and convention as its foundation" (p. 205), or a "constitutive hermeneutics." Surveying psychological models of reading (Holland, Bleich), he finds them inadequate in describing consensus in interpretation. These are followed by more promising "social models" (Iser, Culler, Fish) — mainly, Culler's account of an intersubjective base in reading conventions , and Fish's notion of "interpretive communities" producing meaning. Add Fish to Culler, you get interpretation plus convention — hence the harmonizing agenda implicit in the title. (Others, such as Abrams and Hillis Miller, are also prematurely reconciled.) Meanwhile he recovers "affective stylistics," or analysis of the temporal experience of readers. This is the method of Fish, who won theoretical points by first proposing, then jettisoning it as "just another interpretation." Such recovery is worthwhile, since the method reveals one of the things that can happen in reading, even if it furnishes no masterinterpretation of interpretations. In Mailloux's sample practical criticism, however, we recognize too-familiar thematics: Hawthorne's "Rappaccini's Daughter" shows how a reader is "entangled" in "appearance vs. reality." Such theory apparently returns us to the old ways too soon; in one analysis we discover an "ironic reading convention" where old New Critics would merely have identified irony (p. 102). Mailloux typologizes conventions of meaning and literature: (1) traditional...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 141-143
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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