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Patricia A. Parker. Inescapable Romance: Studies in the Poetics of a Mode Princeton University Press. X, 243. $17-5° Nothing impedes the progress of romance so much as romance itself. For the 'enchanted ground' into which the protagonist must be drawn is at once a pause in the journey as well as a dilation of the narration. Thus the selva oscura where Dante began as pilgrim coincides with the place in the tradition of which Dante the poet was the supreme inheritor, the tapas of the silva or hyIe, the place as the stuff of poetry itself (see e.g. the Cosmographia of Bernardus Silvestris). So it is that the dialectic of any enquiry into romance makes its progress by finding the new in the old: Pound's 'spirit of romance' is always the spirit of modernity. Patricia Parker's Inescapable Romance, a superb incarnation of that spirit, by turning again to romance as a problem both of language and epistomology returns romance to itself. As Northrop Frye asserts, and Parker confirms, romance may be called the supreme fiction, for its art is to disclose art. Fiction's dark wood, with all the attraction and peril that it holds, is the place where the heroes and heroines of romance, and the readers they imply, wander. Parker addresses romance as a mode. Her use of the term corresponds neither to the use that Frye makes of it nor to that of Robert Scholes in his Structuralism in Literature. 'Romance' does not acquire significance by its relations with 'comedy' or 'satire.' It is, rather, the mode of the virtual, a poetics of perpetual anticipation which may be distinguished from epic, a narrative always under the shadow of an ending. The function of romance, following Derrida, is to establish its own differanee, and so distance itself from the perspective of the mode to which it was related since the Middle Ages. Significantly, Parker's essay takes its point of departure from Ariosto's Orlando, a poem which transformed the parody of medieval romance into a new form. Implicit in her argument, then, is the notion that romance is almost 'by nature' a self-reflective mode. Thus the long deferrals of Ariosto and Spenser, the 'stayings' of Milton, adapt themselves with admirable felicity to a reading of fiction as a fiction of reading. 'Romance' as a translation from Latin (romaniee) already suggests such a sense of the mode in the twelfth century. The 'world' of romance, then, exists between fictions, one disclosed by another. But disclosure, as a guise of exposure, employs fiction (or 'error: as Parker argues in her chapter of Ariosto) as its own critic, and thus the semantic field of romance is charged with increased weight as its limits are stretched further by Spenser and Milton. Milton, in fact, poised on thresholds of apocalypse, is seen as the crucial change of romance for the Romantic and modem periods, for in Paradise Lost 'the shadowy and ambiguous realm of wandering becomes, in a sense, the radical instability of linguistic signs' 410 L~rreK:; IN CANAlJA 1Y7Y (p 128). Through Milton romance passes as a phenomenological problem to Keats and thence to Mallarme, Valery, and Stevens. Parker's InescapableRomance complements Frye's The Secular Scripture and unquestionably shares with it the honour of providing the most provocative reading of romance among recent studies. Unlike Frye, Parker makes use of both the French structuralists and the phenomenologists , and perhaps it is merely a cavil to remark that because of the extraordinary consistency that adheres between the book and the epilogue - a brilliant arpeggio on Stevens and the French poets - one wonders what the limits of romance and its progress ought to be. In the twentieth century 'romance continues unabated in the lyric which evades even as it envisages an end or center' (p 233). 'Romance' is so semantically charged in the epilogue that self-reflection, the nostalgic trope of its design, appears as short-circuit. This may be attributed to Parker's sense of the historical, which, despite her assertions, has little to do with that elaborated by Fredric Jameson. The dialectic of history for Parker is the dialectic of literature as phenomenological enterprise...


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pp. 409-410
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