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HUMANITIES 117 our resolution in the face of adversity, Wordsworth would have felt, I think, that The Excursion had had the effect he hoped for. One wonders how that which is untrue and unmemorable can strengthen anything. There is no real argument in the book. In the place of independently reasoned conclusions we get circular statements, such as 'Blake's new myth is of interest to us because in his longer poems he assumes that we are familiar with it.' It never crosses jackson's mind that informing ideas in poems maybe wrong and therefore damaging. Chapter 8, which deals with poems that promote idiosyncratic and, for many, unacceptable ideas, he titles, 'Unfamiliar Ideas.' It is safer to reduce critical disagreement about some poems' meanings to 'our uncertainties aboutthe conventions they employ' and to praisea poet's 'tact' in revising oreven reversing conventional ideas than to defend the truth as he knows it. (RICHARD HOFFPAUIR) Tilottama Rajan. Dark Interpreter: The Discourse of Romanticism Cornell University Press. 281. $15.00 In Dark Interpreter: The DiscourseofRomanticism, Tilottama Rajan sets out to illuminate 'the Romantic mind's dialogue with its own assumptions' (p 29). For appropriate concepts and vocabulary she turns to nineteenthcentury German philosophy and twentieth-century French linguistic criticism and to an abstract and generalizing mode of thought that makes unusual demands on the reader.The book is given for the most partto the examining of works by English Romantic poets, and especially to the later work of Coleridge, Keats, and Shelley. At the end of this ambitious work Rajan concludes: Where previous periods saw literature as not permanently subject to temporality , as the unmediated ... or mediated expression of a transcendent language, the Romantic period recognizes that the discourse of innocence is spoken from within experience. The simultaneously liberating and mimetic nature of art, arising from the fact that the unreal is created to free us from the world by a consciousness which stays in the world, makes of art a dialogue between illusion and its own deconstruction. (P 261) In the critical examination of individual texts Rajan often shows strong powers of judgment, as for example in her comment on Wordsworth's 'TheTwo April Mornings: ofwhich she rightly asserts that 'Wordsworth, less naive than he seems, recognizes that images are not simply phantoms of delight, but products of the mind's dusk as well as its dawn' (p 211). A similar liveliness and good sense appear elsewhere in the detailed 118 LETTERS IN CANADA 1980 discussion of texts, and the general ideas produced seem by contrast not only less authoritative and convincing but also much less well expressed. The book moves between concrete and lively perception and a stratosphere of abstractions, of which the most prominent are 'Romanticism: 'the Romantic mind: and 'the Romantic period: 'The Romantic period' is invested not only with common characteristics but also with a common consciousness; Rajan's own language shows that she takes Arnold Hauser seriously when she quotes him as saying that Romanticism 'represented one of the most decisive turning-points in the history of the European mind', and that it 'was perfectly conscious of its historic role' (p 260). So confident a use of high-level abstractions seems all the more surprising when it appears that 'the Romantic mind' is equallyinvolved in Tintern Abbey' and The Mysteries of Udolpho (pp 260-1), to say nothing of the many and varied continental works which are necessarily subsumed in the grand generali2ation. A deconstructionist critic mightbe tempted to say of such expressions as this that the presence of the sign may indicate not merely the absence of the thing Signified but its actual non-existence. The thesis developed is twofold - that pre-Romantic writers had anaive belief in the relationship between literature and reality, and that the later Romantics were beginning to arrive at a more sophisticated, that is to say modernist, view of the nature of their art. On the first view, which is advanced as an assumption rather than argued, we should have to suppose that the authors of The Canterbury Tales, King Lear, and Gulliver's Travels, partaking in the common consciousness attributed to 'previous periods: 'saw literature as the unmediated...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 117-119
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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