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  • Making and Seeing Modern Texts by Jonathan Locke Hart
  • Song Ming (bio)
Making and Seeing Modern Texts. By Jonathan Locke Hart. New York, NY: Routledge, 2019. 232 pp. Paper $140.00.

Making and Seeing Modern Texts is a comparative work in its exploration of theory and practice. Jonathan Locke Hart, a leading scholar of comparative literature and comparative history, provides an important study that examines poetics through a close reading of texts across genres. He argues that prose and poetry share the making and seeing of language. In ancient Greek, poetry means making and theory is seeing. By modern, Hart means anything that is postclassical.

Analyzing imagery in poetry, narrative in fiction, prefaces in nonfiction and metatheatre in drama, Hart also discusses the modern and postmodern in theory. He asserts that mimesis, representation, or imitation is creative [End Page 170] and not just a reflection of the world, that poetics and mimesis similarly have social and political elements and that the present reenacts the past while performing what Hart calls “the drama of meaning.” He says that what lies between the writer and the reader is the drama of meaning, which he defines as a poetics and rhetoric involving the relation between writing and reading.

Hart examines modern and recent texts in detail. He is a literary critic and theorist, poet and historian, and so he is adept at examining texts and contexts. The volume gives a close analysis of poetry, drama, fiction, and nonfiction. Hart sees tensions between private and public and among poetry, philosophy, and history. The structure of the book goes from chapters on theatre, poetry, diaries, and letters to chapters on modern texts. Four chapters discuss fiction and nonfiction over the past fifty years. Hart focuses on the recent or contemporary world in the second half of the book. His analysis is helpful. For instance, in one chapter, through close reading, he explores Michael Ondaatje’s poetic mimesis, by which Hart means how Ondaatje employs language to efface representation through representation. The subsequent chapter examines M. G. Vassanji’s travel memoir. More specifically, Hart looks at how in Vassanji’s prefatory matter employs language in connection with identity, otherness, home, and exile. In the following chapter, Hart discusses the language of Philip Roth’s The Human Stain, a novel about the university and sexual, political, and racial identity. It is a study about language; interpretation and ethics; and mingles aesthetics, ethics, and politics. The next chapter scrutinizes a text by Virgil Nemoianu, concentrating principally on theory and criticism. Hart notes that this section of the monograph examines identity and otherness in terms of poetics and ways of making and seeing. He does so in contemporary North America as Ondaatje and Vassanji live in Canada and Nemoianu and Roth in the United States. More generally, Hart’s book examines the ways modern texts are made and how readers see fiction and nonfiction.

The structure and chapters of Hart’s book deserve further attention. Chapter 2 focuses on a mimesis in the drama of meaning that is creative and reflective. Chapter 3 concentrates on the private and public, words and silence in drama in terms of recognition in characters and audience. In this context, Hart discusses recognition and misrecognition, anagnorisis and dramatic irony. Chapter 4 explores selected sonnets from Petrarch and Du Bellay through Wyatt and Surrey to poets up to the twentieth century and discusses how making and seeing work for writer, addressee, and reader. In Chapter 5, Hart looks at making and seeing in private diaries and letters and their public performance. These diaries and letters are by female writers like Montagu, Seward, Wordsworth, Wollstonecraft, and Shelley. Chapter [End Page 171] 6, a discussion of translation and the English tradition, argues that Chinese, Greek, Latin, Italian, French, and German are significant for English poetry and prose and making and seeing. Hart’s chapter 7 focuses on one collection of poetry by Michael Ondaatje and his employment of imitation. Chapter 8 explores the ethics of narrative and reading in terms of narrative and point of view in Philip Roth’s The Human Stain. Chapter 9 looks at M. G. Vassanji’s prefatory matter in work...