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Reviews James Boyd White, "This Book of Starres": Learning to Read George Herbert. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1994. 292 pp. $37.50 by W.A. Sessions The poem from which James Boyd White takes his title is about the proper reading of "Holy Scriptures." The ambiguities in Herbert's original poem point to the kind of dialectic that White would have readers of George Herbert learn: the incompleteness of "starres" as "poore books" can only be contrasted to what "lights" toward full meaning in "This book of starres." This dialectic obtains in White's own book in a method of analysis that combines two distinctly differing styles. The first is a rather old-fashioned New Critical reading and the second, a poststructuralist digressive selfconstruction . Such a self informs White's book and seeks a point of contact with the text itself as some sort of soteriological center. The first emphasis on close reading subsumes the Eliot thesis of tradition and talent and the Whiteheadian thesis of process: "The life of this poetry is not," White comments, "in poems as artifacts, but in the process of poetry-making that produced them, in the process of poetry-reading they require" (p. 150). This process excludes, fairly rigorously, any cultural engagement, although White does attempt some theological background early on, largely unfocused. What it does include is its firm dialectic of two selves, the reader's and the poet's, in that order and with a fluidity that extends to the poetry: "Herbert's conception of a person, then, is not as a single thing, but as a place of tension, conversation, conflict, and uncertainty — though here his parts are for the moment united in the poem itself" (p. 81). In fact, it is precisely in the text that person is revealed: "In reading Herbert's poems we are given a brokeness of language and self that in some way parallels his, which it is our task and opportunity to face," says White in the last line of his last chapter (p. 264). This self that is defining its multiple selves in reading Herbert's multiple selves (textualized into a book) is quite well-defined early on 56Book Reviews in White's argument. It is none other than a dramatized White, the product of a topology of region as well as mentality, and so throughout the book White takes his reader into other texts he knows, which for him form a contrast for his apprehension of Herbert. Ranging from the Iliad to Winnie-the-Pooh, such texts focus on three New England poets, particularly Emerson, Dickinson, and Frost. If frequently the extra-textual analyses do not help but interrupt, too cozily assuming a familiarity with the reader, at other times the insights are worth the breaks in the argument. Dickinson's movement from the spiritual to the physical landscape, the obverse of most contemporary poems and fiction, reveals a special technique of Herbert's seen all the more clearly for the comparison. If White's styles — close reading and poststructural solipsism — in combination are refreshing, there is some reason for caveat lector, at least for the omnivorous graduate student ready to "psyche" out the analysis and label it. White's mind is much too subtle for such labelling, and if repetitive or redundant in analysis, certainlyobviating any new ideological reading of Herbert, White's double style does keep the narrative of discovery going (unlike many other Renaissance critical texts). If few presses and few editors today allow such generous and lengthy readings as White's, the readings do provide what is rare in critical texts today. The reader sees text leading to text in a sequence that itself is salvific if followed, at the least therapeutic, because it evokes mystery and acceptance, as in "Love" (III). In short, Herbert reveals Herbert. In such a process, of course, it is a genuine question if such readings as White's add anything new or intend to. To the master Herbert studies from Tuve, Summers, and Stewart to Fish, Vendler, and Bloch, White adds few original readings. Similarly he offers little of the impact of new ideologies on Herbert texts, such as Schoenfeldt demonstrates...


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