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Critical Discussions The Bounds of Reason. Cervantes, Dostoevsky, Flaubert, by Anthony J. Cascardi; xviii & 284 pp. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986. $29.50. Discussed by Gary Wihl N ineyearsago, in The Claim ofReason, Stanley Cavell made a brilliant effort to free philosophy from the trap of skepticism, notably the Cartesian tradition that knowledge begins in doubt, and that human finitude is by definition a "riddle, a difficulty, or a lack." Cavell followed Wittgenstein in seeking to measure the limits of doubt in philosophical and literary texts. For Cavell, the skeptic's frustration at ever knowing another mind perfectly and the refusal to be at ease with separation should give way to an appreciation of the workable limits of self-expression which does not see lack of perfection as a tragic condition. Now Anthony J. Cascardi carries forward Cavell's work in a highly intelligent, original study of the novel. He juxtaposes Cervantes and Descartes, Dostoevsky, Hegel and Kierkegaard, and Flaubert and Rousseau in order to place skepticism within the "bounds of reason." Cascardi takes up novels linked as parts of a parodie or a romantically estranged tradition, a tradition associated with Lukacs's Theory of the Novel, and polemically recasts the entire epistemology of fictional "illusion ." Don Quixote, Prince Myshkin, and Emma Bovary do not suffer from personal "illusions;" each character presents a forceful challenge to skepticism which cannot be trivialized from some safe, privileged epistemological vantage point on the "real" missed by these characters. Our coming to terms with these characters does not yield an epistemology of the novel, as in the criticism of Ian Watt or Erich Auerbach. It forces new attention to the definition ofsocial role, identity and bodily 114 Gary Wihl115 existence, and human separation without the support of a romantic doctrine of interiority. The result is an extremely challenging book which demands careful reading. Much contemporary literary criticism still seems to accept passively the correctness of posing skeptical questions about the meaning of a text, when the larger problem, seen in much contemporary philosophy , is how to get around the impasse of skepticism. I would make only one criticism of the book: at times Cascardi is too anxious to overcome the entrapment of skepticism and rebounds from a criticism of epistemology into what seems to be a defense of irrationalism. "Bounds ofreason" is a phrase that he deploys ambiguously, sometimes to mark the futility of an epistemological investigation (which can only go so far) and sometimes to celebrate madness, suicide, and murder (an ego that is beyond reason). Pages 59-77, for example, contain a powerful defense of Don Quixote 's ability to assume various roles "as if to assault the self by its roles." Cascardi's elaboration of this energetic role-playing reveals an act of identification that is "rooted more deeply than the skeptic's doubts can probe," an ability "to go mad without cause." This madness is not troubled by skeptical introspection or by Lukacsian withdrawal from a hostile , exterior world. Cascardi's double attack on Cartesian and Hegelian misreadings of Don Quixote's "subjectivity" is important, but it is also excessive and less instructive than it ought to be. By the time Cascardi has finished defending Don Quixote's identity as "being ... at odds with the world" (p. 63), it is difficult to see what makes this identity preferable to Cartesian doubt or romantic egoism. Cascardi takes for granted social connectedness, ethical action, and justice in his concept of the role: "social structures through which the individual engages values responsibly" (p. 70). This role-playing supposedly exceeds the morality of Sartre, Kant and John Rawls, but at the cost of denying any rounded definition of self. Cascardi, Cavell, and Bernard Williams (Problems ofthe Self, 1973) all answer Descartes with a discussion of role-playing, but only Cascardi cancels the self so radically. Williams argues that the Cartesian, skeptical self, devoid ofphysical attributes, makes transferring identity, imagining oneself to be Napoleon, too easy (see pp. 42^45). Genuine role-playing demands the ability to give a narrative account of self in terms of "participation imagery." Williams explains that the Cartesian ego becomes unnecessary baggage: "There is no place for a third term...


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pp. 114-117
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