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402Philosophy and Literature already converted will be impressed by appeals to "empirical experience" and the names of fashionable authors. Against Culler's view that the "death of the author" doctrine should find favor with those who consider its theoretical advantages, Schwarz wonders, equally ineffectually, "if anyone who has tried to teach Ulysses without having read Joyce's prior work or Ellman's biography could subscribe to such a view" (p. 6). (The answer, of course, is yes, some could.) Confronted by the claim that all interpreters are simply the inventors of their own meanings, he sensibly points out (p. 13) the analogy of a botanist and a geologist differendy describing the same corner of nature, to suggest thatcontrasting descriptions ofthe same subject matter can be equally acceptable without being merely subjective. But instead of developing this thought, he tries to dispose ofhis opponents bysuch devices as the twelve rhetorical questions we find on pages 51—52 ("Doesn't an author encode a response?" "Do not texts produce effects in readers?" etc.). Reader-response theorists like Stanley Fish will have heard such questions before and answered them in their own creative way. University of Cape TownPaul Taylor Contingent Meanings: Postmodern Fiction, Mimesis, and the Reader, by Jerry A. Varsava; xiii & 233 pp. Tallahassee: Florida University Press, 1990, $24.95. Contingent Meanings explores, in a clearly written polemical style, the receptions and misperceptions of postmodern fiction. It advocates the attentive and sympathetic reading of a literature without great moral or political certainties, a literature characterized by a questioning attitude, critical and self-aware. Its fictions destabilize oppositions. They are nonparadigmatic, circumspective, intertextual , de-epistemologizing, rebellious, and destructuring. The mimesis of postmodern fiction is "a representation of this questioning of the values and preoccupations of our epoch" (p. 182). This means a radical transformation of literary forms, the subversion of established genres and conventions , and the production ofa fractured non-totalizing vision ofthe present. The freedom of postmodern fiction is to dissolve forms and to show them in the act of dissolution. Those discussed in the book ask the reader to work hard for pleasure and instruction, to give up old certainties and overarching visions. The book is divided into theoretical and practical sections. The former explores an expanded notion of mimesis and reader-response to cover texts such as Walter Abish's How German Is It, Robert Coover's Spanking the Maid, Peter Reviews403 Handke's A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, and Gilbert Sorrentino's Mulligan Stew. None of these books is a best seller, nor have they met with much critical attention or acclaim. Nevertheless, it is suggested that the canon should be revised to include the best of postmodern fiction. These four tides are brought forward as candidates. Varsava argues that all fiction is mimetic. It forges new ways for us to see ourselves and the world we live in, if we will only make the connections. "Language , trope, and generic convention shape our feelings and attitudes toward the world" (p. 39). To mean anything at all the postmodern text must stand in a dialectical relation to the reader's world. This relation is always contingent upon particular readers and historically developed interpretative strategies. Together they produce the contingent meanings of the texts. Postmodern fictions are difficult. Without a center or end, without even the lament for a past romance, postmodern writers make up fictions that represent a world lacking the comforts of faith, reason, inspiration, or thoughtless entertainment . It appeals to competent active readers well versed in cultural codes and narrative strategies. Postmodern fictions show us to ourselves as we have come to be, not as we may wish to see ourselves. To readers who cannot or will not relate them to their own lives and circumstances, they remain unreadable . To readers who cling to the grand narratives of history, philosophy, and theology, postmodern fictions will appear nihilistic, amoral, or the result of mere aesthetic play. Varsava paints the picture of a literature lacking the inspiration, drive, and self-confidence which characterized modernism. Postmodern fiction is made up oflitde narratives, presented on small canvases, lacking Utopian significance, and without a great collective vision. Exploring this world is the job of postmodern...


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pp. 402-403
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