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Sherlockholmesing Mr. Kenner KENNETH GIBSON Hugh Kenner. ThePoundEra. Berkeley and Los Angeles: . University of California Press, 1971. 606 pp. Hugh Kenner. Bucky:A GuidedTourofBuckminster Fuller. New York: William Morrow, 1973. 338pp. Hugh Kenner. A Homemade World: The American ModernistWriters . New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1975. 196pp. He had been meantime taking stock of the individual in front of him and Sherlockholmesing him up, ever since he clapped eyes on him. * -Mind you, I'm not saying that it's all a pure invention , he resumed. Analogous scenes are occasionally, if not often, met with. -Ulysses. "The test of exegesis," Hugh Kenner wrote some years ago, "is that it enlightens . . . . [I]f the critic's function is to help the reader see what he is reading, then he will pass beyond exegesis in two ways only: by the judgements implicit in his choice of subjects to write about, and the comparisons implicit in any discussion of a particular work's or writer's nature. The latter are best articulated by the technique of unexpected juxtaposition." Behind this technique, a kind ofliterary montage, or jump-cutting, is Kenner's concern, demonstrated for nearly thirty years now, with "the significant life of the mind." I We may begin with that crucial phrase and add to it Kenner's fascination with two very significant minds: Father Brown (Paradox in Chesterton, 1948) and Sherlock Holmes (Dublin'sJoyce, 1956). Both are professed masters of the deductive technique, and their methods for "finding out" seem analogous with some aspects of literary criticism; thus, the critic becomes a private eye, a gumshoe of the Absolute. This means, as well, that works of literature can, by and large, be "solved," and that one's assessment of this work or that may have the quality ofa "solution," a Q.E.D. In this endeavour, Joyce is the worthiest foeman for Mr. Kenner, and the result may be seen in his justly-famous essay "The Portrait in Perspective," and his anniversary essay (1972) on Ulysses. By Holmesian methods -which may, after all, be the methods of an extremely attentive Common Reader - Kenner deduces (1) that Molly Bloom has had no other lovers before Hugh Boylan; (2) that Dedalus was mistaken about the damage he did to Bella Cohen's chandelier; (3) that Molly tries to exhaust Boylan (by having him move the furniture) before she too runs out of evasions; and (4) that Bloom, THE CANADIAN REVIEW OF AMERICAN STUDIES VOL. VI, NO. 2, FALL 1975 therefore, had to hit his head on entering the Eccles Street house. It is an exhilarating performance; but then, Mr. Kenner has never thought of criticism as a glum activity. Now, the detective is a theologue, as it were; he is the agent of an earthly order that mimics sidereal harmony. Before that is established there is chaos, a Fall, and a murderer to be found out. Thus a classical deductive solution is a diagramof guilt,a resolution of individuals' vector-forces; and, in its intermeshing parts, it has what Bucky Fuller calls tensegrity. In turn, the critic/ detective is likely to be "for the Divine," like Wyndham Lewis; and, more pointedly, he may well be of both Conservative and Catholic stance. Little is to be gained by pushing this further; but there is no use ignoring it either, not with Chesterton (a Catholic convert) and Conan Doyle (a Catholic revert) bulking in the wings. The above is, of course, by way of preface. Look at it this way: the Daedalean intelligence creates labyrinths, and then builds wings to escape it without "solving" it. The counter-intelligence is the Thesean one which probes, sometimes with help ("You know my methods, Watson."), the maze, whether it is Bloom's Dublin, Holmes's London, or the Dantescan world of Pound's Cantos. In addition, any labyrinth (from labrys, the double-axe ideogram at Knossos) must be representable as a circle: "The way up and the way down are one and the same"; "In my end is my beginning"; "A way a lone a last a loved a long the." So Stephen Dedalus leaves Bloom to return (improbably, for he has no key) to the tower whence he...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 224-227
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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