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BOOK REVIEWS 361 Of course, this frame will not override the powerful, often doleful, religious frame of his major poems, nor will it dispel the deep personal darkness that is often the subtext of his creative consciousness, all so trenchantly and simply expressed early on in his short but powerful lyric: "Spring and Fall, to a young child, Margaret are you grieving / Over golden grove unleaving? ... It is the blight man was born for, / It is Margaret you mourn for:' Feeney's critical frame of "playfulness" will not remove this pervasive sense of the death of all selving beauty in Hopkins' poems, but his rich exploration of "lightness" in Hopkins' writings importantly reminds us that there is also a wonderful self-expressive joy that also frames all his words. Readers of Hopkins need this awareness to complete their admiration of him-man, poet, and priest. David Anthony Downes Chico, California TheEthics ofModernism: Moral Ideas in Yeats, Eliot, Joyce, Woolf, and Beckett. Lee Oser. New York:Cambridge University Press, 2007. ISBN 13 987-0-521-867252 . Pp. in185. $88.00. In his opening paragraph, and almost as a refrain thereafter, Lee Oser formulates the "moral project" of the five modernist authors named in his title: "to transform human nature through the use of art" (1). In describing human nature he (problematically and somewhat arbitrarily) sees "the issue as a choice between two alternatives;' New Darwinism and Aristotelian virtue ethics, "both ambitious and imperfect" (1). The principal exhibit for the first is a book by the cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial ofHuman Nature (2002). On the perennial issue of nature versus nurture, Pinker registers vigorous dissent from established opinion makers (among whom he includes modernist authors and critics) who favor nurture, operating on the premise that human beings are "blank slates" ready to receive whatever is imposed on them. Pinker counters that there is a human nature, formed over eons by evolution that presets in complex ways what we are and how we act. That underlying human nature provides Oser his point of departure. If he avoids systematic discussion of virtue ethics as such, Aristotle is Oser's norm. "The Aristotelian body;' a recurrent phrase in his pages, refers to individual human beings who have contact with the real world where they perform particular moral actions within a community. "Naturalistic;' "realistic;' and "teleological" are among the adjectives most frequently invoked. So constituted, human nature "fosters ethical narrativity"; the resulting accounts of human action are "mimetic" (9). The dominant countervailing position, strongly deplored, is a split between 362 CHRISTIANITY AND LITERATURE mind and body, "the Cartesian bias against human nature" (3) that has displaced Aristotle from the sixteenth century onward. Oser takes modernism as a major cultural expression of the Cartesian split: "Individual consciousness is the privileged medium of the modernist view of things" (7). Its agenda is to replace the Aristotelian body with "the modernist body, ... an aesthetic body ... an image in the mind" (9, italics in original). Oser finds the conflict between these two positions anticipated by the two leading Victorian critics, Matthew Arnold and Walter Pater. Arnold "makes the last major defense of human nature in literature" (11). Following Aristotle, he puts action at the center of poetry, action involving both body and mind and deriving its value from the "great primary human affections" (Arnold quoted, 11). Pater,conversely,moves awayfrom common human experience to individualized, "higher" levels of consciousness. If Aristotle's ethics founded virtue on habit, Pater's aestheticized outlook found habit deadening to the uniquely intense experience that he celebrated in art and life. The book itself is short (133 pages of text, 32 of endnotes), and each of the fivemodernist masters is prolific, complex, copiously commented on. Such subject matter imposes rigorous selectivity in the chapter-length overview of each author. The ambitious aims of the book generate another layer of complexity. Both a literary study and a work of cultural criticism, it deals with literature as well as discursive texts. The latter include intellectual history, even philosophy, written not only by modernists but a variety of influential thinkers. In the best of the chapters-those on Yeats, Woolf, and Beckett...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2056-5666
Print ISSN
0148-3331
Pages
pp. 361-365
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-14
Open Access
No
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