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REVIEWS ern society because it does not realize their high goals for it, there are also the alienated outsiders, those citizens of the Third World, who chafe under Western technological dominance. Unwilling to accept blame for their current state, some such citizens often create utopie, prehistoric pasts that prevent them from clearly addressing current and future problems. Armed with these heroic myths, they further defend themselves by pointing to the cause ofall their difficulties—the colonizing West, ignoring any greater, or other, Western cultural contributions. Both frustrated insiders and equally despairing outsiders, then, give a fractured view of the West to compensate either for their own undeveloped, and hence never-to-berealized , desires for utopia, Marxist or otherwise, or for their equally immature inability to deal with their own problems in any way other than to lay blame elsewhere . Paradoxically, in saluting "[fjhose many brave and humane Africans who are struggling these days for decent societies," Ellis sees their inspiration coming from the political and philosophic ideals of the West, the very region the other members oftheir culture seek out as a scapegoat. After carefully tracing "The Origins ofPolitical Correctness" in chapter one, Ellis treats "The Diversity ofLiterature." Once again he uses a term often employed by contemporary critics in exciting ways they never envisioned. Far from taking diversity to mean "coming from separate or culturally distinct groups," Ellis uses the word to suggest the richness ofliterature and its unifying force in achieving the Enlightenment goal ofcommon humanity. The third chapter, "Gender, Politics, and Criticism," takes a similar tum, with Ellis quoting freely from Christina Sommers' Who StoleFeminism? (1994). Like Sommers, Ellis sees feminism as departing from once lofty goals. The same PC race-gender-class mentality vitiates writings by potentially good feminist critics who wind up subjecting all works to the relentless grid ofthe white patriarchal conspiracy forever oppressing the female. In an amusing chapter Ellis cites commonsensical historical facts, such as how difficult it was for women to survive in previous ages without adequate birth control, that might account for the lack offemale authors in those times. He also attributes oppression ofwomen to human failings, such as resistance to change or the desire to retain privilege , rather than to male conspiracy. In short, he follows the Enlightenment ideal ofa common humanity rather than pitting one gender, race, or class against another. Ellis has a masterly command ofcontemporary literary criticism and contemporary social and philosophic thought. He emerges as someone who thinks American academe is on a self-destructive bad tum down a terribly dark, dead-end road. There are academics today—and Ellis quotes them admitting it—who do not even value what they teach. He bristles at this dereliction, citing Frank Kermode: "[University teachers ofliterature [. . J can read what they like and deconstruct and neohistoricize what they like, but in the classroom they should be on their honour to make people know books well enough to understand what it is to love them." Jeanne J. SmootNorth Carolina State University HENRY SUSSMAN. The Aesthetic Contract: Statutes ofArt and Intellectual Work in Modernity. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1997. viii + 319 pp. Here, bursting with words such as violence, shock, disruption, blood-curdling, rage, craziness, and knockout punch, is a book redolent ofits hectic age. These graphic VcH 23 (1999): 172 ??? COHPAnATIST terms, it should be said, do not aim at mere sensationalism; their effect is to register an intellectual pathos the author shares with many ofhis contemporaries, as they are pulled this way and that by moods and expectations and actions that are often mutually incompatible. Ours is an age, as Sussman sees it, in which everyone serves too many masters. It is, in particular, as many prior cultural commentators have also observed, an age in which multimedia messages appeal to us to buy and believe things we do not necessarily wish to buy and believe. In a summative remark from early in the book, Sussman states passionately that "it is the variety of the temperamental, ethical, and modal conditions that modern subjects, the descendents [sic] of Hamlet, can simultaneously sustain that is at times so aweinspiring , at times so blood-curdling." He later speaks movingly ofthe heterogeneity ofour allegiances...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-0887
Print ISSN
0195-7678
Pages
pp. 172-175
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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