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BOOK NOTES LUIZ COSTA-LIMA. The Limits of Voice: Montaigne, Schlegel, Kafka. Trans. Paulo Henriques Britto. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1996. xiii + 321p. LuizCosta-Lima, Professor ofTheory ofLiterature and Comparative Literature at the Universidade do Rio de Janeiro, is one of the most ambitious theorists in Latin America. This is the third volume in a kind oftrilogy, whose earlier titles in translation are Control ofthe Imaginary (1988) and The Dark Side ofReason (1992). They have been well translated from the Portuguese by Paulo Henrique Britto, who recently brought Urna Arte, Elizabeth Bishop's letters, from English into Portuguese. The matter oftranslation is important here. A key term in the book is "criticity," a neologism like the Portuguese criticidade, which means the act of questioning. As the translator explains, this is to be distinguished from "critique" or die act ofjudging, and from "criticism" or the activity by means ofwhich the act ofjudging is effected. Costa-Lima's choice ofmajor literary figures is unusual and perhaps arbitrary. The section on Montaigne is called "The Consecration ofthe Individual." This title points toward the emergence ofthe selfin Renaissance thought, a familiar topic, but one mat receives a rather novel treatment here. Montaigne might be considered as the first in a line ofFrench writers whose preoccupation with self-examination is almost a national trait; modem writers we could mention include Gide, Bardies, and the Valéry ofthe Cahiers. But Costa-Lima moves for the better part ofthe book to writers in German: Schlegel and his Romantic contemporaries, and then Kafka. He has a reason for this shift; he thinks that the idea of literature "as an autonomous discursive mode" is already suggested in Montaigne; it becomes explicit in the German Romantics. It is true that Kant's Critique ofJudgment (1790) is usually considered the first systematic work in aesthetics. So to move from Montaigne to Kant, Schiller, Schlegel and the others is to pass over the Enlightenment. This is an interesting way ofviewing Montaigne, who, according to Costa-Lima, "places reason on trial because he denounces as unfounded its pretension to knowledge." So we have here an act of"criticity" before its time. As it is well known, Montaigne left public life at the time of his friend La Boétie's death, which removed anyone he could talk with. He retired to his tower with his thousand or so books and decided to devote his time to a kind ofconversation with himself. Hence his need to write in a new form: the essay, the attempt. Some ofCosta-Lima's best pages are concerned with the essay as a mode ofdiscourse . He states mat "according to Adorno, the essay's defining trait is its opposition to the system, the finished theory." And then he builds up a brilliant little defense ofthis mode: "It is precisely because of its affinity with criticity that the essay is marked more by the forcefulness ofits questioning than by the unerringness of its answers. That is why the essay is the form that, though not identified with the literary experience, is closest to it." Costa-Lima claims that Montaigne's activity as essayist pointed toward autobiography but that he refused to write in that mode. It might be useful to compare him with his near contemporary Benvenuto Cellini, whose autobiography (written in 1558-62 but not published until 1730) was typical ofRenaissance egoism. It also resembled die picaresque novel that was being written at that moment in Spain. Vol: 21 (1997): 170 THE COMPAKATIST Schlegel, who came after Rousseau, evidently had a certain contempt for botii Cellini and Rousseau (in apassage quotedby Costa-Lima). Forhim tiiey represented a concentration on me selfthat was almost unwholesome. But he eventually thought of Rousseau's Confessions as a novel, quite superior to La Nouvelle Héloise. His idea of "romantic irony" is essentially opposed to system and finished theory; thus he can be considered an exponent of"criticity," like Montaigne. Costa-Lima seems to admire Schlegel's preference for the fragment. In this respect, Schlegel anticipates latercritics such as Walter Benjamin. Since he was the first writerwho devoted himself entirely to criticism, and he had a considerable influence in England and France as well...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-0887
Print ISSN
0195-7678
Pages
pp. 170-171
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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