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376Philosophy and Literature straightforwardly and refreshingly admit many. For a piece ofethical criticism, Company is obsessed wim aesthetic merit. Booth wants to do away widi the distinction between the ethical and the aesthetic, to make them a two-way street, but he does not cruise both sides of the boulevard. The only works that he dismisses as moral failures are difficult to handle aestheticaUy: Benchley's/aa«, Rabelais, and Penthouse magazine. Rarely if ever does he praise an ethically superior work that fails aesthetically. In short, learning how to read properly for Booth means learning how to uncover sufficient aesthetic and linguistic complications to redeem the potentially immoral content of a work. The book as aesthetic object, sometimes as fetish, remains an obstacle imposed between readers and fictional characters; and in this respect, Company recalls, no doubt more than Booth would like, the fascination with "reading" found in deconstruction and not what we might call ordinary, everyday reading, the kind with which we most often exercise our character. I do not want, however, to push this point too far. Even though Booth himself seems not to favor moral evaluation, I must say that this book is a good friend, and its implied author displays the best of virtues (and here I mean "virtues" not "vices"; Booth says there can be evil virtues!). He is weU-intentioned, mature injudgment, youthful in enthusiasm, and erudite. His desire to keep company with his reader is genuine, and his offer of friendship is sincere. Booth accepts everyone, seemingly like Austen's Jane Bennet, without pride or prejudice. Indeed, I am tempted to conclude my ethical criticism of Company with Booth's evaluation of Lawrence: "What I discovered, on a second and third reading, was a much fairer and livelier distribution of human sympathy for disparate views than I had ever expected any single human being to display." University of MichiganTobin Siebers Contingencies ofValve: Alternative Perspectivesfor Critical Theory, by Barbara Herrnstein Smith; 229 pp. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988, $22.50. Barbara Herrnstein Smith's book is a powerfuUy argued, highly suggestive analysis of the concept of "value" in literary study and cultural commentary and critique. Smith presents a compeUing case for the "radical contingency" of value and keenly describes the complex systems within which valuejudgments take shape, exist, and circulate. She displays a formidable command of difficult, dense philosophical issues and controversies, and her distinguished work in reviewing, elaborating upon, and re-articulatingthem forcefully challenges both conservative scholars who adhere to notions of "transcendent" value and radical Reviews377 theorists who urge that we see aU valuejudgments as mere expressions of class, race, and gender bias. Smith stresses that literary value "is not the property of an object or of a subjectbut, rather, theproductofthedynamics ofasystem" (p. 15). Makingjudgments about literature follows inevitably from living within a complicated, diverse range of communities and institutions. "Evaluations," she observes, "are not discrete acts or episodes punctuating experience but indistinguishable from the very processes of acting and experiencing themselves. In other words, for a responsive creature, to exist is to evaluate" (p. 42). What this means is that we should actively return "value" and "value judgments" to the agenda of literary criticism and pedagogy, acknowledging that we can neither proclaim nor take refuge in an "absolute" value that transcends human agency but perceiving that we can, nevertheless, vitally trace and productively examine the evaluations that we are constandy involved in making. Smith brilliandy engages and answers the charge of "relativism" that she knows will be launched against her position. She is not saying that the appreciation of Homer's epic poems, for example, simply reflects a personal preference . She is proposing, instead, that we inquire into the conditions through which certain literary works have acquired their canonical status, and recognize that Homer came to be (and remains) a great author because of"the continuity" of his texts "in a particular culture" (p. 53). The writings of Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare, as weU as the masterpieces of eminent composers and artists, have performed, and continue to perform, crucial functions for Western civilization . It may be hard to imagine, but different texts and artifacts could conceivably perform these functions in the...


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