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Common Knowledge 10.1 (2004) 157
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David Lodge, Consciousness and the Novel (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), 320 pp.
Lodge is well known as a prolific and popular novelist, whose best works dramatize in a lively and amusing fashion a good many of the fads and fashions of modern culture. But he is also a first-rate literary critic, who has performed an extremely valuable task by, as he says, "domesticating" the various types of critical theory that have succeeded each other in the past forty years. By this he means, in my view, that he has used them, not "as a basis for philosophical speculation and ideological polemic," but to explore and explain how actual texts were put together and how they obtained their effects. His creations as a novelist have gone hand in hand with his critical analyses, and his own experience as a writer has provided him with a firsthand insight into the problems of the craft. His critical writings are thus filled with precise and illuminating observations on the texts he deals with, and his writings are not only informative but also useful and clarifying for anyone interested in the works he scrutinizes.
The title of the present volume is that of an expanded lecture dealing with the problem of consciousness—one of great interest now to cognitive scientists as well as novelists. Lodge has dramatized the opposition between a scientific and literary approach to this issue in his novel Thinks. In one passage, a scientist explains the difficulty of giving "an objective, third-person account of a subjective, first-person phenomenon," and his novelist interlocutor quotes a passage from Henry James to show how this can be done. Ultimately, the question concerns whether science can totally eliminate the Judeo-Christian idea of the self as "a subjective, first-person phenomenon," now under attack not only by science but by certain types of philosophy as well. The richness of Lodge's discussion of this issue, illustrated briefly by scientific theory but more extensively by the whole development of novelistic styles (more and more focused on consciousness since the beginning of the twentieth century), can only be mentioned here. No student of the subject should pass it by. The remainder of the book, which exhibits the virtues of insight and literary expertise already mentioned, is composed of other recent essays and reviews dealing with Dickens, Evelyn Waugh, E. M. Forster's Howard's End, Philip Roth, and Kingsley and Martin Amis.
Lodge has often written of his Catholic background, and his readings in cognitive science and anthropology have not persuaded him that such old-fashioned notions as "the soul" or "the spirit" are now devoid of all value. "One must concede," he writes, "that the Western humanist concept of the autonomous individual self is not universal, eternally given, and valid for all time and all places, but is a product of history and culture. This doesn't, however, necessarily mean that it isn't a good idea, or that its time has passed. A great deal of what we call civilized life depends on it."
Joseph Frank is professor emeritus of Slavic and comparative literature at Stanford University and professor emeritus of comparative literature at Princeton University. The five volumes of his recently completed biography of Dostoevsky have received the National Book Critics Circle Award, the James Russell Lowell Prize of the Modern Language Association, and the Christian Gauss Prize of Phi Beta Kappa.