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  • There is no Middle Road/That is Itself the Middle Way
  • Andrew Way Leong (bio)

If comparative literature is not this, it is nothing. Nothing. "Don't delude yourself," writes Stendahl of his favorite character: "for you, there is no middle road."

—Franco Moretti1

Whatever is dependently co-arisen,That is explained to be emptiness.That, being a dependent designation,Is itself the middle way.

—Nāgārjuna2

After reading Ranjan Ghosh and J. Hillis Miller's Thinking Literature across Continents, I arrived at an image suggested by the epigraphs above. This image, which does not appear within Ghosh and Miller's text, is an associative aftereffect—an image of a reader of Stendhal in silent meditation, writing within and against the Madhyamaka (Middle Way) tradition of Mahayana Buddhism … it is nothing. Nothingthere is no middle road. With this image comes a line of inquiry. In the first epigraph, there is a dialogical choice—both a two-part choice and a choice presented in a dialogue—posed by Father Chélan to Julien Sorel in The Red and the Black. This dialogical choice is between the orders of the secular and the religious, between the pursuit of fortune "in this world or the other" (dans ce monde ou dans l'autre).3 What if we were to read this dialogical choice as only the first pair of positions one finds in the fourfold logic of Nāgārjuna's catuṣkoṭi, or apophatic tetralemmas? [End Page 897] This world; not this world; this world and not this world; neither this world nor not this world.

This line of inquiry arises from an insight provided by both Ghosh and Miller: that divergences in their readings of "sahitya," or "literature," can be traced to differences in their habitual modes of logic and rhetoric. My thinking across a fourfold logic also emerges from the requirements of my rhetorical position as a respondent, a position which demands that I avoid mere recapitulation and provide a supplement to the already-present triangulation of Ghosh, Miller, and Ghosh plus Miller. In his epilogue, Ghosh writes that Thinking Literature across Continents leaves "readers in the midst of three books, one by Ghosh, another by Miller, and the third by Ghosh–Miller."4 My response must address the fourth book in which a reader might find herself: the book by neither-Ghosh-nor-Miller.

My fourfold response will proceed in a sequence of two parts of two. The first part will review Ghosh and Miller's dialogue, drawing out the logical and rhetorical infrastructures which underlie the two head terms which the authors use to distinguish their approaches to reading literature. These head terms are (in)fusion for Ghosh and induction for Miller. The second part of my response will examine the two additional propositions of a Ghosh–Miller tetralemma: both (in)fusion and induction; neither (in)fusion nor induction. To outline these third and fourth positions, my response will take issue with how Ghosh and Miller's first two chapters set forth a dyad of (in)fusion as an approach to the sacred (Ghosh) versus induction as a maintenance of the secular (Miller). An opposition between sacred and secular occurs often enough in common English usage that only a pedant would call it incorrect. However, this opposition can read as a bit off-kilter because the older antonyms of these Latin-derived terms are sacred-profane and secular-religious. Both implied by, and negated by, Ghosh's sacred and Miller's secular, the profane and the religious could serve as potential candidates for the third and fourth positions of a Ghosh–Miller tetralemma. These positions would then prompt the following question: how can we (not) think literature across the worlds of the profane and the religious?

In broad terms, Miller's induction leads us to think literature across tree-like distinctions between the general and the specific, or genus and species. In his introduction to the text, Miller turns to the classical rhetorical device of apophasis, bringing up a subject through denial of the subject: "I am not a deconstructionist."5 This apophasis serves as a means to "clear the ground,"6 through...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1528-4212
Print ISSN
0010-4132
Pages
pp. 897-905
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-05
Open Access
No
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