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WENDELL V. HARRIS The Space of Criticism 'The mind isits own place, and in itselfI Can make a Heav'n ofHell, a Hell of Heav'n,' boasts Milton's fallen Archangel; readers of contemporary criticism can hardly avoid noticing that critical theory seems increasingly to occupy its own place, orspace. Less figuratively stated, criticismdraws more and more upon a spatial vocabulary. The following bits are taken from a recent anthology of essays on 'Post-Structuralist' criticism: 'the locus and foundation of all theory are in the space between text and the criticism serving as discourse on that text'; 'the perception by which the literary object (which is clearly no longer an"object") moves from that ofa formal, complete, organic whole to that of a "methodological field'"; 'cultural languages ... that traverse the text from one end to the other in a vast stereophony'; 'Speech ... becomes for Olson ... the act which gives the poem "solidity" by breaking up the prescribed grammars, decentering the narrative "line" into the field of "elements," thereby restoring to the textual space "the play of their separate energies"'; 'The central problematic of the essay as a form is its place, by which I mean a series of three different but connected ways the essay has of being the form the critic takes, and locates himself in ..." The literal-minded question evoked by such a vocabulary is: Where is this space orfield which is againand again 'traversed' andin which such a variety of things are situated? The more useful question is perhaps: To what extent is this vocabulary wholly metaphorical and what are the consequences of dependence on that metaphor? The essays collected in the recent Spatial Form in Narrative, a volume that provides an impressive illustration of the fecundity of the spatial metaphor, remind us that such an investigation should begin not with the Structuralist movement but withJoseph Frank's rich and seminal 'SpatialForm inModem Literature,' first published in 1945.2 And behind Frank lies Lessing. I propose, then, to trace and comment upon the shift in the role of spatial terminology in criticismfrom a literaluse inLessingthrough the metaphorical application to literary form by Frank, and thence to the continually more figurative application of spatiality to language itself as presumably authorized by Saussure and practised by Barthes and Derrida. Along the way I shall try to differentiate between the almost unavoidable heuristic use of the spatial metaphor and a much more questionable constitutive use. UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 53, NUMBER 3, SPRING 1984 THE SPACE OF CRITICISM 249 I 'Spatial Form' is one of the best-known twentieth-century critical essays; my summary can accordingly be brief. One recalls that Frank begins the essay by sketching Lessing's distinction between the spatial form of painting and sculpture and the temporal form of literature, a distinction which results in the conclusion that painting and sculpture 'can only express subjects of which the wholes or parts exist in juxtaposition' while literature 'can only express subjects of which the wholes or parts are themselves consecutive.' Suggesting the exaggeration of this distinction, Frank adduces Pound and Eliot as poets who in theory and practice attempt to undercut the temporal dimension ofliterature by the combination of elements that, though drawn from different moments in time, coalesce into a single moment. Flaubert and, much more importantly, Joyce are cited as novelists working to attain 'a unified impact, the same sense of simultaneous activity occurring in different places'; Proust is found to be an even more subtle producer of simultaneity. The greatest amount of space in Frank's essay is devoted to Djuna Barnes's Nightwood as a novel built on 'a pattern arising from the spatial interweaving of images and phrases independently of any time-sequence of narrative action.'3 After demonstrating that spatial arts have attempted to become even more spatial than Lessing's analysis requires, Frank arrives at the apex of his argument. The movement toward spatial form in both the plastic arts and literature is explained as the attempt to evade 'that flux and change from which, as we have seen, man wishes to escape when he is in a relation of disequilibrium with the cosmos.' History is made ahistorical...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 248-263
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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