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Book Reviews A ndrew M artin. T h e K n o w l e d g e o f Ig n o r a n c e f r o m G e n e s is t o J u l e s V e r n e . C am ­ bridge: Cam bridge University Press, 1985. P p. x + 259. Acknowledging the impossibility o f starting at an absolute beginning, the first chapter o f this intriguing study, following a prefatory hors d ’œ uvre that clearly m aps out his architectural gam e-plan, introduces the interm ediary status o f the texts M artin studies, from Genesis through Nicholas o f Cusa and Rousseau to French writers of the Rom antic period, including N apoleon, and culm inating in the scientific fictions of Jules Verne: he interprets the texts o f each o f these authors as discursive shuttles which m ediate and m iti­ gate between the poles o f such pervasive binary oppositions as knowledge and ignorance, civilization and barbarism , and last but not least, especially in its im plications for con­ tem porary theory, science and literature. The resolution M artin offers to the problem atic tensions between these cultural anti­ nomies involves the notion o f their reversibility: he suggests that the conflicting couples are not m utually exclusive but reciprocally nutritive, like twins in a sym biotic relationship. Each text invokes an antithesis, designed to order (chrono)logical and epistemological priorities, “ but w riting, m ediating between extrem es, enforcing a process of exchange on a relation of opposition, seems to be incapable of sustaining a stable duality. Each category affirm s overtly the exclusion or annihilation o f an opposite which it covertly assim ilates” (181). T hroughout the book, M artin convincingly m aintains his dialectical definition of the reversible process o f twin contestants w ithout ignoring the ensuingly paradoxical conflicts. This book brilliantly considers writing as a resistance to traditional binary theological (om niscience/nescience), chronological (beginning/end), figurai (night/day), and spatial (East/W est) oppositions. Discourse, M artin argues, synthesizes the dissolution of these epistemic enemies into allies as the one becom es the other. As a study that openly adm its its own reductive and inexhaustive deficiencies, The Knowledge o f Ignorance is sure to arouse stim ulating intellectual controversy in the academic arena. It is a com plim ent to the success of the very am bitious project M artin has set for himself that the scope of his book does m irror the rival patterns whose textual models he explores, without falling into the m ytho­ logical pit of duality: it is the business of this study to show everything and nothing without saying it. T hroughout his own text, M artin skillfully integrates gram m atical, discursive, and philosophical aspects o f the (an)epistem ic status of knowledge, tracing the edifying yet sub­ versive desire o f writing in different periods to construct a discursive archive of knowledge, like an im aginary library. M artin confesses that his m ethod is “ strictly bricolage” (7) in its com bination o f aspects of literary criticism , the history of ideas, and philosophical treatise. The intellectual density of provocative ideas in this book is lightened by the econom ic den­ sity o f M artin’s prose which is peppered with refreshing hum or and a fondness for w ord­ play; his excellent transitions between sections and chapters facilitate the tem poral and spatial leaps between the textual outposts of his study. In the central chapter he persuasive­ ly dem onstrates the m utual complicity of the otherwise bipolar model in 19th-century French writing: the “ civilizing m ission” of the West in the East, including N apoleon’s cam ­ paign in Egypt, results in the image of an Orientalized Occident reflected in H ugo’s and C hateaubriand’s assim ilation of a “ benighted E ast” into the “ enlightened W est.” The final chapter, “ The Scientific Fictions of Jules V erne,” is the most fully-developed, a reprise of the alim entary philosophy “ connaître, c’est m anger” from the garden o...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 106-107
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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