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Reviews421 unfair—Gunn may weU protest diat he wasn't writing a book on that kind of cultural criticism—dien it is so only if we ignore die promise of breaddi he holds out in die title of his book: TL· Culture of Criticism and tL· Criticism of Culture. For this is a book which, despite its broad tide, is about American culture and American criticism. The pragmatic and moral tradition Gunn examines is clearly an important field of study and it is in die later chapters on die history of what he caUs die "American Studies movement" (p. 151) and die history of the relationship between religion and literature that Gunn moves away from die somewhat defensive tone of the early chapters to sometiiing more accommodating , encompassing, and envisioning, to a plea to supplement die poststructuraUst hermeneutics of suspicion with a home-grown hermeneutics of restoration. It must be said, however, that culture from Gunn's point of view looks very white, male, and first world. The idea of a book on the culture of criticism and the criticism of culture is clearly a good one but TL· Culture of Criticism and iL· Criticism of Culture leaves one wondering if, in die last decade of this century, it is stiU desirable, even acceptable, to conceive of die topic as narrowly as it is here. University of Canterbury, New ZealandDenis Walker TL· Pleasures ofReading in an Ideological Age, by Robert Alter; 250 pp. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989, $18.95. Most of the important literature departments in America are dominated by a flagitious anti-establishmentarian and Marxoid united front of feminists, reader-response dieorists, semioticians, and deconstructionists commonly motivated , as die Left always is, by a political hatred of democratic capitalism and a metaphysical hatred ofdie permanent tilings ofhuman existence as expressed or represented in literature. The resulting ideological stew concocted by this odious crew contains such poisonous ingredients as (1) die view that literature "is severed from reaUty because it is composed of conventions . . ."; (2) the absurd idea that prior to die present dispensation literary criticism "was an unbroken chain of authoritative readings"; (3) die colossally stupid view diat die great works of die canon are diere "chiefly because of their consonance widi die distribution of power in the society," i.e., that literature was a tool first of white male aristocratic and now of white male bourgeois domination; and (4) the view that the plurality of cogent but mutuaUy inconsistent readings means that one literary interpretation is as good as another. In an introduction on "die disappearance of reading" and in seven chapters 422Philosophy and Literature on "die difference ofliterature," character, style, aUusion, structure, perspective, and "the bog of indeterminacy," Robert Alter attacks these and other smeUy Utde neo-orthodoxies and defends various conservative modernist "New Critical " views, arguing that "die persuasive representation of reality in an artistic medium answers a deep human need and provides profound and abiding delightin itself," and diat"literature, even as it fosters innovation, is an essentially conservative institution," each stage incorporating the previous stage so diat even tiiough literary fashion fluctuates, "literary tradition constitutes itself as a trans-historical community." As for criticism, Alter's view is that "as a matter ofprinciple [multiple] readings are always possible." Nevertheless such readings must have an evidentiary basis in die text, and this allows die refutation and rejection ofsome readings, but not the establishment ofsome one right reading. Despite the general correctness of many of Alter's views and numerous positively briUiant passages (see particularly Alter's interpretation of Robinson Crusoe), this is not the book we so desperately need. Alter is altogether too polite and even timid, making too many large concessions to his opponents whUe pleading for a few crumbs and a small place at the table in return. No AUan Bloom he. His most indefensible concession is to aUow the inference from the fact of die inevitable plurality of interpretations to the ideal of pluralism, die idea that the coexistence of mutually inconsistent interpretations is not just legitimate, but a good thing. It is obvious why most of the academic Left loves pluralism: it feeds their incessant lust for "dialectical" conflict...


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pp. 421-422
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