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  • G-6 Criticism of Modern Literature Generally

A Books

Bal, Mieke. NARRATOLOGY: INTRODUCTION TO THE THEORY OF NARRATIVE. University of Toronto Press, 1997. xv + 254 pp. $14.95 paper.

Brown, Dale W., ed. OF FICTION AND FAITH: TWELVE AMERICAN WRITERS TALK ABOUT THEIR VISION AND WORK. W.B. Eardmans Publishing Co., 1997. 280 pp. $20.00 paper.

Cooke, Maeve, ed. ON THE PRAGMATICS OF COMMUNICATIONS. Massachuetts Institute of Technology Press, 1998. viii + 454 pp. $35.00.


When Denby decided to retake the Great Books program at Columbia University which he had first taken thirty years earlier, I imagine that he probably maintained almost the same stance toward the so-called culture wars as he did after completing it, namely that ideologues on both the right and the left were defeating the purpose of liberal education. The one difference resulting from this experience, however, is that he is now impassioned. Denby’s humanist [End Page 461] response to the texts that he read undermines the pretenses of “hegemony,” for he feels no insistence to agree with one author or one idea. He insists on engaging these authors on their own terms and to refute them accordingly. Reading ancients such as Homer, Plato, and Machiavelli, as well as moderns such as Beauvoir, Conrad, and Woolf, Denby offers his personal and critical views on the classroom presentation and reception of these crucial texts.

Reading Denby’s thoughts on the Great Books, one is struck by his suitability for what courses such as these were designed to do, that is, to give individual students the most thoroughly developed point of departure for their own ideas. More so, one may even see glimpses of Milton in Denby’s erudition, perusing the great writers who have survived the ages and garnering from them what he thinks best. One might take this book as a modern Areopagitica for the teaching curriculum. If one current scholar disdains the definition of literature as “the best that has been know or said in the world,” perhaps Denby then would agree with it. SSS

Dunning, Stephen N. DIALECTICAL READINGS: THREE TYPES OF INTERPRETATION. Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997. vii + 191 pp. $45.00 cloth, $19.95 paper.

Foster, Dennis A. SUBLIME ENJOYMENT: ON THE PERVERSE MOTIVE IN AMERICAN LITERATURE. Cambridge University Press, 1997. vii + 177 pp. $52.95.

Galligan, Edward L. TRUTH OF UNCERTAINTY: BEYOND IDEOLOGY IN SCIENCE AND LITERATURE. University of Missouri Press, 1998. xiii + 188 pp. $29.95.

Goodheart, Eugene. THE REIGN OF IDEOLOGY. Columbia University Press, 1997. x + 203 pp. $15.50 paper.

Each of the essays in this text was published separately, suggesting that it is not some central theme which links them here but rather the sensibility of their author. The title and Introduction, however, do indicate an organizing principle of sorts: the spirit of these essays is that of an earlier time, very much opposed to a dominating spirit of our time, demonstrating by their perceptiveness and clarity their continuing relevance. While the term Modernism rarely appears here, these are excursions on Modernist subjects, excursions which in their approach and attitude are themselves inherently Modernist. They are also suspicious of that “vacuous term” postmodernism, especially because of its link to that other, threatening term ideology. Whether writing about Wayne Booth, Kenneth Burke, Richard Rorty, or Matthew Arnold, the New York Intellectuals or contemporary theoreticians, Freud, Primo Levi, or Jean Amery, Goodheart is consistently balanced, informed, and resistant to ideology. But he does not lack passion: “The alternative to ideology critique or historicist interpretation or reductive theoretical analysis is not a purely aesthetic criticism, as if such a thing ever existed. [End Page 462] Aesthetic criticism has been shown to contain moral and political interests, although it is not exhausted by those interests. The alternative, it seems to me, is a nonreductionist cultural criticism responsive to the ‘text,’ whether literary, historical, or institutional. . . . ‘Politics,’ ‘morality,’ ‘history,’ ‘ideology’ remain within the purview of criticism, as I understand it. What should be resisted is the tendency for any term to become a...

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