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BOOK NOTES need to keep an open mind about what lies ahead, he seems to long for absolutes. Tentativeness, as already mentioned, or pedanticism, as he struggles to define comparative literature and its metiiodology, seem to be the Scylla and Charybdis through which he navigates. As he veers toward Charybdis, he writes such words as "Comparatists do not claim to study essentially die relation ofthe creator to his work—which is die concern ofother specialists . . ." (73). His defining comparative literature negatively hurts what should be vibrant and free intellectual inquiry. He also runs the risk oftruisms with statements like, "It is . . . vital to read the texts in the original," or "the comparatist should have active knowledge of two or three languages ..." (14). One would have expected Chevrel to have been a bolder navigator in his exploration ofthe discipline. Nevertheless, the introduction to the volume by ICLA president Gerald Gillespie is extremely laudatory, and suggests that Chevrel is simply writing for a broader audience. Jeanne J. Smoot North Carolina State University BEATRICE MARTINA GUENTHER The Poetics ofDeath: The Short Prose ofKleist andBalzac. Albany: The SU of New York P, 1996. 216 pp. Scenes ofdeath abound in the short fiction ofKleist and Balzac, but Guenther's study does not focus on a thematic study ofthe kinds ofdeath portrayed. She concentrates instead on die narrative structure ofthose scenes and their significance for the narratives as a whole. Far fromjust representing closure, death is used in a variety ofways in the fiction ofKleist and Balzac, often as a means to move a story forward, as in Kleist's "Der Zweikampf (The Duel) or Balzac's Louis Lambert. Both tales start with enigmatic deaths, which the narrative then sets out to investigate . In those examples and others, Guenther points out how, contrary to what one might expect from "realist" fiction, the meaning ofthe events leading to the death is not resolved in a logical, straightforward manner; meaningful progress toward a recognition oftruth becomes problematic for both writers. In the process the coherence ofthe narrative structure is called into question. Kleist uses the inability to differentiate clearly between binary oppositions such as moral values to question the validity ofthe German ideal of"Bildung" (formation) celebrated by Goethe, a concept that relies on the clear discernability oftruth. Although Balzac is usually associated with a progress-oriented narrative, Guenther points out in fact how fragmented his stories often become—dirough the introduction ofshort récits and more complex narrative frames—highlighting the inadequacy oflogically developed and sustained investigatory analyses and obscuring the real significance ofthe scenes ofdeath. Guenther's analysis of narrative structures relies heavily on deconstructive practices. She is intent on showing how the rhetoric ofa text problematizes its own categories. Her goal, however, is not to prove the futility ofthe literary enterprise but rather to highlight the historical particularity of a text's "unraveling." The concept ofdeath is used to ground her rhetorical analysis. Vol/. 21 (1997): 176 THE COMPAKATIST The comparison of Kleist and Balzac does not limit itselfto noting that both writers deal with the anxiety of death or use scenes of death to call attention to insufficiencies of contemporary conventions; Guenther shows how their writing deals with another kind ofdeath—the death ofmeaning. Balzac's narrative fragmentation and Kleist's discovery ofthe interchangeability ofcontrasting values, destabilizes the cohesion and progression of literary texts. Both writers saw themselves to a great extent as secretaries or chroniclers oftheir time, documenting contemporary social and political trends. They needed therefore to represent the world in coherent psychological terms. From that perspective, scenes ofdeath become of critical importance, since death marks the moment in a text when language cannot capture an experience with any fidelity. Although both writers explore death and its representation in different ways, Guenther finds a significant common denominator : "the fascination with modifying narrative convention, especially as this intersects with the mimetic project" (15). One ofGuenther's major goals is to show how the depiction ofscenes ofdeath helps to highlight Kleist and Balzac's questioning ofthe adequacy ofmimesis. In carrying out that objective, Guenther questions traditional critical approaches to the two writers, which tend to focus on the mimetic process (either on the surface or...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-0887
Print ISSN
0195-7678
Pages
pp. 176-177
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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