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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 on a "deep" level). She shows quite convincingly how the primacy ofdeath in Kleist's works suspends or even undermines the mimetic process—thus calling into question any overtly referential pretensions—and how Balzac explodes mimesis by providing in his short fiction ofthe 1840s different models ofhow a powerful and whole selfmight survive endlessly, only to have the textual structures demonstrate the impossibility ofthat enterprise. Guenther's study provides a fresh and intriguing perspective on two major writers and thus makes a solid contribution to comparative literature. Robert Godwin-Jones Virginia Commonwealth University ILINCA ZARIFOPOL-JOHNSTON. To Kill a Text: The Dialogic Fiction ofHugo, Dickens, andZola. Newark: U ofDelaware P, 1995. 260 pp. As befits a study ofnovelistic hybridity, Hinca Zarifopol-Johnston's book, part ofwhich was presented at die 1993 SCLA convention, is at once both more and less than it first appears. This is an engaging and readable analysis ofhow the "shadow" of Hugo's Notre-Dame de Paris "changes or shades the map of meaning in Dickens's Bleak House, Zola's Le Ventre de Paris, and Zola's Germinal" (14), creating a space in which opposing literary styles co-exist. But To Kill a Text is also about Bakhtin and, in particular, how Hugo's elaboration ofthe "grotesque" influenced Bakhtin's understanding ofthe novel as, to quote Tzvetan Todorov, an "intentionally dialogized hybrid" (33). By bringing Bakhtin and Hugo to bear first on each other and then on Dickens and Zola, Zarifopol-Johnston sheds light on how writers (and readers) produce texts and textual meanings as fictional worlds collide or, as she puts it, become "grafted" one to die other. Ifher title suggests the death Vol. 21 (1997): 177 BOOKNOTES ofthe novel, she is clearly more concerned with a text's afterlife, how great novels live on in subsequent authors' works. Ironically, given Zarifopol-Johnston's effort to recuperate novels criticized for their formal incongruity, where To Kill a Text comes up short is in its structure. Although announced as a three-author study, three full chapters are devoted to Hugo and Dickens while Zola's two novels are dispatched too quickly. This is disconcerting, first, because Zola's novels seem so well suited to die type ofreading proposed, and second, because the Rabelaisian intertext (since it is impossible to write ofBakhtin without evoking Rabelais) makes it all the more frustrating to be left hungry. Otherwise, the book is generally successful and rewarding. It begins with a lucid "Meditation on Intertextuality." While Zarifopol-Johnston's perspective and terminology are overtly Bakhtinian, she is attentive to where her work intersects with and moves away from other types of influence studies, like those of Wellek and Bloom. In "Bakhtin's Dialogue with Hugo," she argues that the Préface de Cromwell and Notre-Dame de Paris stand as "unacknowledged intertexts for Bakhtin 's theory ofthe novel and ofdialogism" (33). By viewing Bakhtin as an author whose work, like that ofHugo...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-0887
Print ISSN
0195-7678
Pages
pp. 177-178
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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