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  • Modern Literary Theory and Ancient Texts: An Introduction
  • Lowell Edmunds
Thomas A. Schmitz . Modern Literary Theory and Ancient Texts: An Introduction. Translated by the author. Malden, Mass. and Oxford: Blackwell, 2007. Pp. x, 241. $89.90 (hb.). ISBN 978-1-4051-5375-1; $26.96 (pb.). ISBN 978-1-4051-5374-1.

This book is a translation of the author's Moderne Literaturtheorie und antike Texte: Eine Einführung (2002). It comes into English in a generally easy style, except for the constant use of anaphoric "this" ("This means. . . .," etc.). Schmitz never says what a theory of literature is or might be, and this lack of a concept leads to indecisiveness and unbalanced presentations in the individual chapters. (Wolfgang Iser, How To Do Theory [Oxford 2006] discusses the concept.) The longest chapter (8, "Deconstruction," 28 pages) is not on a literary theory but, as in Schmitz's list of objections to deconstruction, on a critique of Western metaphysics (123). Ch. 7, ("Orality-Literacy") is as much about mid-twentieth-century anthropological theories of orality as about the Parry-Lord theory (Schmitz' "Parry-Lord theses"). Ch. 3, ("Narratology") begins with the unexplained statement that "Narratology is not a position of literary theory properly speaking" (43).

The second half of Schmitz's title (and Ancient Texts) turns out to be somewhat deceptive. It implies that one will learn how modern theorists and classicists have applied literary theory to ancient texts. The omissions are many. In Ch. 8, Schmitz manages not to mention Derrida's essays on the Phaedrus ("Plato's Pharmacy"), on the Timaeus ("Khora"), and on Lucretius and the clinamen ("My Chances/Mes Chances") or "Nous Autres Grecs" in Barbara Cassin's collection. What about classicists doing deconstruction? None, really, on Schmitz' account. In Ch. 3, Schmitz does not cite the fundamental two-volume work Sémiotique: Dictionnaire raisonné de la théorie du langage (with J. Cortès). He does not even use the word semiotic in discussing Greimas. The influence of Greimas on Claude Calame and Ezio Pellizer goes unmentioned. But at least Stephen Wheeler (on Ovid) and Irene de Jong (on Homer) receive due notice as narratologists. Ch. 4, on Bakhtin, concludes with a two-page demonstration of Petronius' Satyrica as an example of Menippean satire in Bakhtin's sense, i.e., Menippean satire as the embodiment of the carnivalesque in literature. Then, in the "Further Reading" section at the end of the chapter, he cites quite a few Bakhtin-inspired studies by classicists. There are many more than he cites, for example, R. Bracht Branham's Bakhtin and the Classics (2002), which has contributions by several luminaries. Ch. 7, will seem especially strange to Americans. It is as if Gregory Nagy and John Miles Foley and many other "oralists" never lived.

Bibliographical addenda could quickly fill up this review. In this regard, readers of Schmitz should be aware that his bibliography was not updated for the translation. Of 388 items, only nine bear a date of 2001 or later.

The lack of a guiding idea causes many distortions. Bibliography or lack thereof is only a symptom. Schmitz manages to discuss Jauss (chapter 6, "Reader-Response") without mentioning hermeneutics, thus without signaling the philosophic tradition from which his thought emerged. In chapter 9, on Foucault, Schmitz concentrates, I think unfairly, on criticism of Foucault by classicists, omitting David Halperin's "One Hundred Years of Homosexuality," his Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography, and his "Forgetting Foucault" in Nussbaum and Sihvola's collection. In chapter 10, for New Historicism in the field of classics, Schmitz discusses only his own book on the Second Sophistic. For historicism as a trend in the study of Latin literature, see TAPA 135.1 (2005) 1–13 (with discussion of Greenblatt). Chapter 11 adequately introduces feminism, but can hardly, in two pages or so, convey the importance of feminist scholarship in classics. Froma Zeitlin and Laura McClure are fittingly cited for Attic tragedy, but no one else and no other area. In his discussion of psychoanalysis (chapter 12), outspokenly critical as he is, Schmitz surprisingly [End Page 350] fails to mention a famous classicist's critique of Freud, Sebastiano Timpanaro's in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9234
Print ISSN
0009-8418
Pages
pp. 349-351
Launched on MUSE
2009-06-03
Open Access
No
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