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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Counter-Anthology

Posted by Matt Greenfield on 08/09/05 at 01:00 AM

Perhaps those of us who have mixed feelings about the Norton Anthology of Criticism and Theory should offer a constructive alternative.  If you could publish your own anthology of exemplary literary criticism, what would you include in it?

In a response to an earlier post, Luther Blissett briefly mentioned the possibility of an alternative to the Norton, but concluded that a mere anthology of great criticism could never get as much publicity as a more polemical book like Theory’s Empire.  That might be true, but I am not sure an anthology needs much publicity to succeed, especially if it is designed for use in the classroom.  Duncan Wu was still a junior research fellow at Oxford when he put together his anthology of Romantic-era verse, and it sold 20,000 copies in its first year.  Good anthologies can create their own viral marketing (i.e. academics talking to their friends).  If we, whoever we are (me? Valve readers?  a self-appointed committee thereof?), could design a useful anthology, I am confident we could find a respectable press to publish it.  Or, if we were less ambitious, we could instead simply put together a bibliography— possibly a bibliography focused on material available on the web through such services as Project Gutenberg, JSTOR, Literature Resource Center, and Project Muse.

Thinking about an anthology of great (can I use that word?) criticism also challenges us to think about what kind of course it would enable one to teach.  Literary Theory and Introduction to Graduate Studies courses are generally dull enough to kill a sleeping mule.  What would one do in a more eclectic and playful course on literary criticism?

I suspect that many of us could agree on Aristotle, Horace, Sidney, Jonson, Coleridge, Hazlitt, and Keats.  Which twentieth century critics would you want to include?  I would nominate Robert Frost, William Empson, Kenneth Burke, Stanley Cavell on Lear, Geoffrey Hartman on Wordsworth and inscriptions, Seamus Heaney on the diction of Hill and Larkin, and Rosalie Colie and Alastair Fowler on genre.  Maynard Mack (“The World of Hamlet”) and Kenneth Gross (“The Rumor of Hamlet”) make a wonderful pair: each nominates a different speech act (questions and slanders, respectively) as the core of Hamlet.  There is a much less well known essay on Hamlet that also belongs to my personal pantheon: George T. Wright’s “Hendiadys and Hamlet,” on the play’s peculiar linguistic doublings.  On the novel, Ian Watt, Lionel, Trilling, and Irving Howe remain among my favorites.  Among classicists, I would include Vernant and Nagy.  Would anyone else second Clifford Geertz’s “Art as a Cultural System”?  I have mixed feelings about Northrop Frye (and was fascinated to see that Rene Wellek denounced him angrily in the essay included in Theory’s Empire), but he wrote a wonderful little essay called “Approaching the Lyric” that appeared in Lyric Poetry: Beyond New Criticism.  John Hollander and Willard Spiegelman have written essays on poetry which I consider indispensable.  I realize that this list is incomplete and lop-sided, but I count on you, my fellow valvers, to remedy my deficiencies.


This thread is going to be inundated with suggestions, so I will make only one: Virginia Woolf’s essay on “Aurora Leigh."

By on 08/09/05 at 03:21 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I really wish they would have included T. S. Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent.”

By Adam Kotsko on 08/09/05 at 09:21 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I would love to put together an anthology along these lines, but for reading, not for teaching—I don’think a collection of essays constructed on these principles would be particularly helpful to students, excecpt insofar as it showed them that it is possible to write vividly about literature. (Which, come to think of it, *would* be a helpful thing. But I’m not sure you’d be building a course in literary criticism: rather, it would be a course in the essay as a genre, with the proviso that each essay be about literature.)

With those caveats, some random recommendations: Jane Tompkins’s essay on visiting the Buffalo Bill Museum (later included in *West of Everything*); George Eliot’s impossibly brilliant “Evangelical Teaching: Dr. Cumming”; James Wood, “Virginia Woolf’s Mysticism”; Mark Twain, “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses”; Samuel Johnson’s review of Soame Jenyns’ *Free Enquiry into the Nature and Origin of Evil*.

By on 08/09/05 at 10:13 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I looked at the table of contents available on Amazon, and “Tradition and the Individual Talent” is in there, page xiii of the TOC. By the way, it seems that some (not all, I know) Valve posters are basically okay with everything pre-Heidegger in the Norton.

Has anyone read Eudora Welty’s foreword of To the Lighthouse (Harcourt Brace, 1989)? Especially if this anthology is to be used in teaching, I’d recommend its inclusion, and I’d be interested to know what others here think about it.

Laura, thanks for that Woolf piece; I hadn’t seen that one before.

By Clancy on 08/09/05 at 10:59 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I was about to write “wouldn’t you want to include most of the text in the Norton?” when I realized that you mentioned an anthology of criticism, not theory.  But presumably you’d keep some of the texts in the Norton.  (Here’s the table of contents.  Which ones?

By on 08/09/05 at 11:02 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Laura, thank you for the link to the Woolf essay, which is a wonderful choice. 

Alan, I think that you have eloquently described the purpose of our proto-anthology: to show students “that it is possible to write vividly about literature.” Thank you also for your wonderfully eclectic list. Do you have a web site?  I would like to learn more about the architecture of your personal canon.

By on 08/09/05 at 11:11 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Rich, revisiting the table of contents of the Norton reminded me that I would want to include Dryden’s whacky preface to Troilus and Cressida and some of the prefaces of Henry James.  Most of the twentieth-century work in the Norton doesn’t fulfill Alan’s criterion of showing “that it is possible to write vividly about literature.”

About the pre-Heidegger essays in the Norton, I feel ambivalent.  They are all wonderful on their own terms, but, as strange as it may sound, I think that many of them are rather too theoretical for our anthology. I would be happy to be argued out of this position, though.

By on 08/09/05 at 11:36 AM | Permanent link to this comment

There’s a tricky issue- The Russian Formalists are obviously vastly important, and form a brilliant and tightly woven net of theory when taken as a whole, but their major essays, when viewed individually, are utterly unimpressive.
Perhaps only Tomashevski’s “Literature And Biography” would work nicely in an anthology, but it’s not a very representative work, being much “softer” and more conversational than most formalist thoery.

As to genre, Adena Rosmarin did some very impressive work, and her Deconsturctionist affectations are mostly harmless.

Something from early Wayne C. Booth is an absolute must in my opinion. Does anything from The Rhetoric Of Fiction stand alone nicely?

I think Robert Langbaum’s “The Poetry of Experience “ is, though problematic, quite brilliant. His “Character Versus Action In Shakespear” is also quite good.

And though a trivial choice, there’s no good reason not to include the first chapter from Brian Mchale’s Post-Modernist Fiction. Granted, it’s not a work of staggering brilliance, but it’s incredibly useful, well thought out, elegant, and dispels so much nonesense said by other people.

By on 08/09/05 at 11:38 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Thanks for the kind words, Matt—and no, I don’t have my own site; I have always depended on the kindness of blogging strangers, and always will so depend.

A thesis for disputation: graduate students in literature should be required to take a course in writing about literature (readings for which chosen from the anthology we are assembling) and another course in either modern theory or the history of criticism.

Question following upon the thesis: which of these courses should be the prerequisite for the other?

By on 08/09/05 at 11:47 AM | Permanent link to this comment

A lot of the type of good criticism that would be included in a hypothetical “Valvian” anthology of lit-crit alone (sans theory) seems to me to be anthologized in the plain old Norton Anthologies of [National] Literature.  That is somewhat limited in that it only includes criticism by people who are already “literary figures” in their own right.

My suggestion to include the Eliot was my weird idea of a joke.  I knew it was included already.

By Adam Kotsko on 08/09/05 at 11:51 AM | Permanent link to this comment

The Nortonians might have included something actually pertinent to life apres-Einstein (and apres-Hiroshima), say CP Snows’ essay “Two Cultures,” or perhaps Pynchon’s updating of Snow(and corrections of) in “Is it OK to be a Luddite.” Apart from Aristotle, Dr. Johnson’s best, and maybe Shelley (I suspect the snoots left out In Defense of Poetry, which, however flawed or naive, features PBS’s brilliant prose and argumentation), you might as well rip out the pages and save for toilet paper on summer camping expeditions, using anything written by PMS Eliot or Ginny Woolfe for the largest craps.

By JC-187 on 08/09/05 at 12:00 PM | Permanent link to this comment

You know, in spite of its rather annoying introductory material, criticized by Scott, I actually don’t think that the Norton Anthology of Criticism and Theory has many major problems with it.  Looking over the table of contents, this is all stuff that I read as an undergraduate / early graduate student, and mostly stuff that I think everyone in literary studies should read at some point, even if only to push it aside.  Also, it’s reasonably weighted toward pre-1960 material - basic aesthetic theory like Plato, Kant, Hegel, etc.  If there’s any major omission, it’s obviously Lionel Trilling - “Manners, Morals, and the Novel” seems like a pretty crucial essay.  Perhaps also Searle’s response to Derrida’s “Limited, Inc.”; undergrads generally walk away from the Derrida / Searle debate thinking that Derrida won, hands down, simply because they only read Limited Inc. and don’t see the distortions of Searle’s position within it.

If there’s any major problem with the anthology, it’s a problem endemic to all anthologies.  I.e., the fact that you get a scattershot selection of excerpts, which means that students get little sound-bytes from, say, Kant’s Critique of Judgment rather than an actual understanding of the theory.  But this is probably inevitable in any course of this nature.

By on 08/09/05 at 12:13 PM | Permanent link to this comment

A history-of-criticism anthology without Shelley’s Defense of Poetry is about as likely as one without “Tradition and the Individual Talent.”

By on 08/09/05 at 12:14 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Matt, small world. I was just yesterday thinking of blogging something about Dryden’s T & C preface. Well, something about T & C, mentioning Dryden in passing. His swipes at the Bard are, as you so felicitiously spell it, ‘whacky’. “Heap of rubbish” and all that.

By John Holbo on 08/09/05 at 12:20 PM | Permanent link to this comment

All that talk of “Tradition and the Individual Talent” made me feel like taking another look at it, reminding me again what a terribel waste it is - beneath all the stuffy pedantic stylingsm, and the utterly uninteresting discussion of the issue of the past, it’s just the most amazing, rich, radical and inventive discussion of the poetic, and of the artistic in genral, I ever laid eyes upon. Especially part II.
Yet because of the viciously boring style of Eliot’s critical writing, student after student are doomed to miss all it’s brilliance and beauty, and what a strong set of tools it gives to approach contemporary (our contemporary, not contemporary for Eliot) writing.

By on 08/09/05 at 12:40 PM | Permanent link to this comment

What Adam said.

By Matt on 08/09/05 at 01:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Peli: Eliot’s boring style?  That surprises me.  I think in its context “Tradition” and Eliot’s other early criticism was regarded, and rightly so, as rapier work.  E.g., the nasty line about how only those who have a personality see the attraction of wanting to escape it.  Zing.  No reason current students should see this, of course.  But in his day Eliot was the swaggering American bully boasting his way through London. 

Though I’d agree that the essay’s argument is dubious, I find the first and second parts pretty strongly connected.  No theory of the eternal monuments, no theory of impersonality.  When I teach it to my students, I like to point out how influential and now commonplace the idea of living tradition now is and how in effect it’s an argument for multiculturalism.  Substitue “culture” for “tradition” and you can see how Eliot is articulating romantic ideas of collective identity that will continue to be important to many writers who differ from him in almost every other respect.

I’m struck, too, by your reference to McHale.  I’ve just been looking at that book again and agree that it’s unusually restrained and lucid for its subject matter.  But the whole modernism/epistemlogical vs. pomo/ontological divide seems wildly implausible--especially since it leads McHale to see Absalom, Absalom as jumping horses midstream.

By on 08/09/05 at 01:26 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Various troll and troll-related comments deleted.

By John Holbo on 08/09/05 at 02:18 PM | Permanent link to this comment

First of all, looking back at it my comment about “Tradition” was slightly brattish. But I hold to the notion the Eliot’s critical style isn’t particularly lively, inspirational or sweeping - Surely so for the modern reader, but I do also recall Borges calling Eliot “A good poet, but a stuffy critic”. Surely when compared with the critical writing of Pound, for example, it’s a tad unexciting stylistically?

The argument in part II, as I view it, is mildly dependent of technical aspects of the argument in part II- as an argument for the significance presence of inter-textual elements in all writing and all reading - but can stand alone fine when detached from the particular context of that thesis of inter-textuality, which is the weight of the classical past. 

So, in mind, tradition is composed of a descriptive claim for intertextuality as a fundamental property of all artistic texts, based on, and enforcing, an argument for all art being a construct rather than a mimetic expression of mental reality, both induced with a specific normative stance about the significance of a traditional past for any attempt at novelty. I, and I think many modern readers, find the latter element far less exhilarating than the former two.
As you say (Or at least I think you say), the leap from the first two to the third is also faulty argumentation.

“The emotion of art is impersonal. And the poet cannot reach this impersonality without surrendering himself wholly to the work to be done. And he is not likely to know what is to be done unless he lives in what is not merely the present, but the present moment of the past, unless he is conscious, not of what is dead, but of what is already living”
is the only proper way he attempts to tie in the notions of impersonality with those of adherence to history (and though no explicit here, impliedly using the notion of the essential intertextuality of reading), and it really is a bit weak.

But the sad thing is, in my eyes, that the third element tends to obfuscate the brilliance of the first two (essential intertextuality, impersonality) in the eyes of many modern readers, specifically because the archaic, serious (though occasionally nasty) and dry style of the essay seems to accent an oppressive “weight of the past” aspect for the modern reader, rather than the avant-garde notions of the work as an impersonal construct. I’m sure that, as you present it, the third notion, of adherence to history, can be salvaged from such oppressive impressions and made attractive, but I think the others are much more exciting.

And regarding McHale- I’ve long been a minority opinion here, and this has long be a subject for arguments with friends, but I’m actually buying the Ontological\Epistemological thing, though with a certain twist- I don’t take these to be the essential difference, but rather major symptoms of the difference, which are statistically very reliable, though not always.
I’d say that rather, Pomo is to be seen as willing to break into Ontology while Modernism is mostly strictly Epistemological, and while this is surely not the heart of the matter, it’s a very useful observation. Also, McHale’s claim becomes far more plausible once you realize that for him playing with Genre, and with unreliable narrators taken to a certain extreme degree, is a form of meta-fiction Ontology- add that, and you really do have a distinction that works on a very high percentage of the texts deemed Pomo, though I still think it only touches a symptom. Plus, McHale has some really great observations of the genre of The Fantastic in that book, I my opinion.

By on 08/09/05 at 02:20 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Auerbach, Spitzer, Burke.

Maybe Nabakov on a novel.

By John Emerson on 08/09/05 at 02:22 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I don’t have a problem with anything in the Norton, exactly, but I can think of some stuff that shouldn’t have been left out. But that’s a publishing issue.

Doesn’t Hazard Adams’s collection have much of the stuff people have mentioned above?

By Jonathan on 08/09/05 at 02:34 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Like others, I don’t think there would be need to start from scratch.  My preference would be to transfrom the volume into an anthology of literary theory and criticism, putting the emphasis back on litature and pruning out some of the more extraneous stuff.  So, for instance, I would remove such selections as Gramsci, Lacan, Althusser, Levi-Strauss, Fanon, Lyotard, much of the Foucault, Baudrillard, Habermas, much of Derrida, Harraway, Butler, and many, if not most, of the selections oriented more toward cultural studies and identity politics.  It seems like the last 1000 pages or so really get lost in the weeds.

By on 08/09/05 at 03:20 PM | Permanent link to this comment

things left out of the Big Book of Norton PissDrinker’s Indoctrination: Book X of the Republic, and the banning of the lyric poets from the State, Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Witt.’s Tractatus, and Gerber/Johnson “How to Fuck Big Dogs like Harvard Feminists and Deconstructionists.”

By H. Bilious Greyface the 9th on 08/09/05 at 03:37 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Blah (and anyone else who’d like to respond), though I can see why some people argue that studying literature by itself is a provincial and perhaps even unsophisticated approach, I understand your reasoning behind wanting to keep the focus of literary criticism on literature. But what about W.E.B. DuBois’ “Criteria for Negro Art” and (these aren’t in the Norton, but they could be considered alongside DuBois) Langston Hughes’ “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” and James Weldon Johnson’s preface to The Book of American Negro Poetry? Also Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination? They’re about literature, no question, but do you consider those pieces to be too idpol?

In other words, it’s sometimes very difficult for me to separate literary study and identity politics, and for my part, my understanding of literature has been greatly enriched for having read the works I mention above.

As an aside, I’m thinking about having this quotation from Luther Blissett on that thread tattooed on my forearm:

Truly intellectual rules of engagement here would entail: (a) specifying the *exact* object of your critique; (b) specifying the *exact* reasons you think that object is open to critique; and (c) specifying with what you would propose to replace that object.  That’s what I call “constructive criticism” in my rhetoric and composition courses, and to expect less from a bunch of grad students and professors would be silly.

By Clancy on 08/09/05 at 03:46 PM | Permanent link to this comment

That would be a very long tattoo.

But anyhow, I think the problem with blah’s suggestion is that, for better or for worse, so many of these texts have had an impact on the discipline and have shaped the way scholars read literature.  I.e., you can’t understand some of the typical argumentative moves made by New Historicists without having read both Foucault and Derrida.  This is even true of the Walter Benn Michaels, “against theory” version of New Historicism.

By on 08/09/05 at 03:54 PM | Permanent link to this comment


The devil, of course, is in the details, so I would need to have greater familiarity with the individual pieces to know whether they had enough of a literary focus to justify inclusion in my anthology.  But if you are correct that the pieces you mention are about literature, I wouldn’t have any a priori objection to including them in the volume.  My objection isn’t per se against approaches to literary criticism that revolve around feminism, african american studies, gay studies, postcolonial studies, psychoanalysis, marxism, or what have you, but rather to an overbroad conception of literary studies that includes everything under the sun.  So if a piece discussed feminism, rather than a feminist approach to literary criticism, I would prefer to leave it out.  Likewise with psychoanalysis, marxism, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, etc. 


I appreciate your objection, and I do recognize that many of the pieces included were done so because of their influence on critical practice.  Neverthless, I think the costs of including all of this disparate material outweigh the benefits.  I do not recommend excluding Foucault or Derrida entirely, just focusing on the pieces that would be most relevant to literary studies or including followers that applied Derrida or Foucault to litarary studies.

By on 08/09/05 at 04:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I note with some concern that this thread has resumed the old conversation about what should go into a Ruling Anthology ("one book to find them, one book to bring them all and in the darkness bind them"). Ignored now is Matt’s original concern for building a “counter-anthology.” Apparently, like all putatively counter-hegemonic discourse, Matt’s suggestion has been sucked back into the vortex of Theory’s ideologemes. Alas. Resistance *is* futile after all.

By on 08/09/05 at 04:23 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Matt’s idea was not really for a true counter-anthology.  He simply wanted to revise the selections for the twentieth century, where things want sort of awry according to the anti-Theory crowd.  No need to throw the baby out with the bath water.

By on 08/09/05 at 05:00 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Well, blah, Matt can speak for himself. But when a post is titled “The Counter-Anthology,” and it speaks of an “alternative” to the NATC, and it invites us to imagine our “own anthology of exemplary literary criticism” (not confined, by the way, to the 20th century)—then all that tends to confirm my take on Matt’s suggestion, doesn’t it?

In any case, nobody’s throwing out any babies or, as far as I know, even any bathwater. I teach both 20th century theory and the history of criticism, and neither of those courses is going away, nor should they. But neither of them is particularly concerned with “exemplary literary criticism” as such, and certainly not with writing about literature as an artful enterprise. So perhaps a course that did deal with such matters (and which drew its texts from a “counter-anthology”) would be a worthwhile addition to a curriculum. Perhaps graduate students in particular could profit from studying writers who write beautifully about literature. (And this, by the way, need not be a “conservative” enterprise. Who among recent critics writes as well as Rorty?)

By on 08/09/05 at 05:19 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’ve read the comments above, but forgive me if I repeat anyone’s suggestions.  Here are mine:

1) selections from Scholes, *Textual Power* about the role of “texts” and “criticism” in the classroom

2) Emerson, “Nature” and “The Poet”

3) Whitman, introduction to the first edition of *Leaves*

4) Benjamin’s convolute on Baudelaire in *The Arcades Project*, along with his precis of the project

5) Hannah Arendt, “What is Freedom?” from *Between Past and Future*

6) Dewey, selections from *Art as Experience*

7) Kenneth Burke, “The Philosophy of Literary Form”

8) D. H. Lawrence, “The Spirit of Place” and “Nathaniel Hawthorne and *The Scarlet Letter*” from *Studies in Classic American Literature*

9) Nathaniel Mackey, “Sound and Sentiment, Sound and Symbol” from *Discrepant Engagement: Dissonance, Cross-Culturality, and Experimental Writing*

10) Charles Bernstein, the opening poem-essay from *A/Poetics*

11) Bob Perelman’s imaginary conversation between Roland Barthes and Frank O’Hara (I forget the title of the piece)

12) Susan Howe, from *My Emily Dickinson*

13) Gaston Bachelard, “House and Universe” from *The Poetics of Space*

14) Walter Ong, from *Orality and Literacy*

15) Fredric Jameson, “Magical Narratives: On the Dialectical Use of Genre Criticism” from *The Political Unconscious*

16) Northrop Frye, from *Anatomy of Criticism*

17) Leslie Fiedler, from *Love and Death in the American Novel*

18) Leo Marx, from *The Machine in the Garden*

19) Raymond Williams, from *The City and the Country* (or is it the other way around?)

20) Peter Brooks, “Reading for the Plot” and “Narrative Desire” from *Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative*

21) Bakhtin, all four essays in *The Dialogic Imagination*

22) Hortense Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe”

23) Skip Gates, opening chapters of *The Signifying Monkey*

24) Albert Murray’s essay on Hemingway in *The Blue Devils of Nada* and selections from his letters with Ellison

25) Ellison’s *Shadow and Act*

26) Baldwin’s “Everybody’s Protest Novel” and “Many Thousands Gone”

27) Constance Rourke, “Long Tail’d Blue” from *American Humor*

28) Greil Marcus, from *The Old, Weird America*

29) Anthony Appiah on Du Bois and race from *In My Father’s House*

30) Barthes, from *A Lover’s Discourse* and *Mythologies*

31) Rene Girard, from *Desire, Deceit and the Novel*

32) Wilson Harris, from *The Womb of Space* and *Selected Essays*

33) Ursula Le Guin, introduction to *The Left Hand of Darkness*

34) Toni Morrison, from *Writing in the Dark*

35) Richard Drinnon, from *Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian Hating*

36) Gerald Vizenor, from *Fugitive Poses*

37) Samuel Delaney, from *Longer Views*

38) Angela Y. Davis, from *Blues Legacies and Black Feminism*

39) Amiri Baraka, from *Blues People*

By on 08/09/05 at 05:29 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Okay, blah, that makes sense.

The Le Guin essay is an excellent choice.

By Clancy on 08/09/05 at 05:47 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Following Luther B and others: Kenneth Burke’s *Philosophy of Literary Form* deserves to be in there if only for a single passage, which (to those who are already over-familiar with it) I apologize for inserting here:

“Where does the drama [of history] get its materials?  From the ‘unending conversation’ that is going on at the point in history when we are born.  Imagine that you enter a parlor.  You come late.  When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about.  In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before.  You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar.  Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance.  However, the discussion is interminable.  The hour grows late, you must depart.  And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.
“It is from this ‘unending conversation’ that the materials of your drama arise.”

By on 08/09/05 at 05:59 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Luther: I’m almost sure 11. is “A False Account of Talking to Frank O’hara and Roland Barthes in Philadelphia”.  And I would *so* buy that anthology.

By on 08/09/05 at 06:52 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Here’s another gem from Burke (A Rhetoric of Motives, p. 27-28, emphasis mine):

“Identification" is a word for the autonomous activity’s place in this wider context, a place with which the agent may be unconcerned.
[. . .]
Carried into unique cases, such concern with identifications leades to the sheer “identities” of Symbolic. That is, we are in pure Symbolic when we concentrate upon one particular integrated structure of motives. But we are clearly in the region of rhetoric when considering the identifications whereby a specialized activity makes one a participant in some social or economic class. “Belonging” in this sense is rhetorical. And, ironically, with much college education today in literature and the fine arts, the very stress upon the pure autonomy of such activities is a roundabout way of identification with a privileged class, as the doctrine may enroll the student stylistically under the banner of a privileged class, serving as a kind of social insignia promising preferment. (We are here obviously thinking along Veblenian lines.)

The stress upon the importance of autonomous principles does have its good aspects. In particular, as regards the teaching of literature, the insistence upon “autonomy” reflects a vigorous concern with the all-importance of the text that happens to be under scrutiny. This cult of patient textual analysis (though it has excesses of its own) is helpful as a reaction against the excesses of extreme historicism (a leftover of the nineteenth century) whereby a work became so subordinated to its background that the student’s appreciation of first-rate texts was lost behind his involvement with the collateral documents of fifth-rate literary historians. Also, the stress upon the autonomy of fields is valuable methodologically; it has been justly praised because it gives clear insight into some particular set of principles; and such a way of thinking is particularly needed now, when pseudoscientific thinking has become “unprincipled” in its uncritical cult of “facts.” But along with these sound reasons for a primary concern with the intrinsic, there are furtive temptations that can figure here too. For so much progressive and radical criticism in recent years has been concerned with the social implications of art, that affirmation of art’s autonomy can often become, by antithesis, a roundabout way of identifying oneself with the interests of political conservatism. In accordance with the rhetorical principle of identification, whenever you find a doctrine of “nonpolitical” esthetics affirmed with fervor, look for its politics.

First published in 1950.

By Clancy on 08/09/05 at 07:31 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I have been rereading “Tradition and the Individual Talent” this week, funny about that.  I like your comments on it very much, Peli.  But I really value the insistence on historical consciousness in the first section.  In fact, I find it exhilarating, in much the same way as I respond to some of Andreas Huyssen’s recent work on memory and postmodern culture.  They both view intertextuality as an (ethical) activity engaged in by artists, and audiences, as much as a formal quality displayed by texts.  Developed awareness of the pastness of the past and of the predecessors(and the nature of their continuing presence) is what permits the fullest exploration of the present moment and the self which exists in it, because it’s what enables the boundaries to be drawn. 
I think dense and perceptible intertextuality is mostly viewed at present in formalist terms, as a good thing for sophisticating up the texture of the work, and therefore as a good thing in general.  Which is fine, but the intersubjective angle I think brings us a bit closer to why artists and their audiences are interested in engaging with the past in the firstplace. 
I’m not saying this is anything you don’t know already though (tapers off lamely).

By on 08/09/05 at 09:09 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Thank you very much, Laura.  I actually have really mixed feeling about much of what I wrote, as I’m a really big Eliot fan, and was trying to make the case for “Tradition“‘s hipness from the perspective of hypothetical “That old oppressive stuck up Eliot” denouncers, and got a bit caught up in the part.

That said, I do believe that his remarkable theoretical claims of “intertextuality” which can be extracted from the first section, and “art as consturct” claims clearly stated in the second, fail to make the case for his normative claims for channeling tradition (they may serve a Futurist agenda just as well),and that what they do achieve is far greater.

I do see value in his insistence on historical consciousness, but much more so because I know, for contextual rather than textual reasons,that this is young Eliot of Prufrock making the case for tradition alongside radical and dramatic change.
As a side not, I think most students reading that articles tend to link his notion of tradition more with the later, conservative (though still great, to my tastes) Eliot, and when put in that context it can seem subtly oppressive.

Also, it obviously is supposed to read
“The argument in part II, as I view it, is mildly dependent of technical aspects of the argument in part I” where I wrote “..of the arguement in part II”. I shudder at the thought of how little sense the paragraph makes as written.

By on 08/09/05 at 10:14 PM | Permanent link to this comment

There are a number of anthologies, like the one edited by Hazard Adams, that have a decent selection of pre-20th century work.  What we do not have is anything like a decent anthology of exemplary twentieth century literary criticism.  When you think of all the mediocre anthologies of various species out there, doesn’t this seem like a strange omission?  Or, to put it another way, why should there be numerous anthologies of essays attacking theory when there are none that demonstrate the alternative possibilities?

It may be important for graduate students in the current environment to learn a bit about Butler and Foucault and perhaps even a bit about Derrida.  But that doesn’t mean that they have to be in an anthology of literary criticism.  I really would like to throw out the entire Norton and conceive a new anthology.  I am genuinely agnostic on the question of how much pre-20th century work such an anthology should include.

By on 08/09/05 at 11:32 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I admire Luther’s suggestions, the Benjamin, Bakhtin and Girard especially.  At the risk of ad hominem accusation or something I might add Maurice Blanchot, whose essays on Rousseau, Holderlin, Kafka and Beckett truly equisite (though maybe falling short of his more philosophical writings).


By Matt on 08/09/05 at 11:58 PM | Permanent link to this comment

*ahem* “are truly exquisite.”

By Matt on 08/10/05 at 12:00 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Luther, those are kick-ass suggestions. But (sorry, sorry, I can’t help it, especially since I’ve been suffering through Wesleyan lack of proofreading) ONLY ONE E IN DELANY.

By Ray Davis on 08/10/05 at 12:36 AM | Permanent link to this comment

"I do not recommend excluding Foucault or Derrida entirely, just focusing on the pieces that would be most relevant to literary studies or including followers that applied Derrida or Foucault to litarary studies.”

On the one hand, I think that an anthology of ´exemplary literary criticism´ is a brilliant idea (I, for one, would want to include de Man´s ´Shelley Disfigured´; it provides an unforgettable reading experience in tandem with Shelley´s ´Triumph´). Notwithstanding its title, the Norton has always been more about Theory than about Criticism.

Yet on the other hand, that would make you anthologize a lot of applications of (critical) theory, as in Freudian/Lacanian readings of Shelley´s ´Defence´ and whatnot (wouldn´t it?). Even though there might not be anything wrong with that (I do not care for them, but that might be me), I thought that the consensus about ´Theory´s Empire´ was that some (Critical) Theorists are okay, but that some of the criticism they inspired is very, very wrong. So isn´t that a bit, errm, contradictory?

Of course, I am not taking issue with the many suggestions that have been listed in this post (in fact, I´m going to look some of them up). I just think that it might not be that a misguided principle to include some pieces of Critical Theory rather than some pieces of ´Critical Criticism´, so to speak.

By on 08/10/05 at 05:34 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Ray is talking about the Wesleyan University Press and not attacking Sean and his colleagues, or President Bush’s co-religionists.

Luther, I too would buy your anthology (I would also proofread it. Playing in the Dark.).  Mebbe with something positive about Wright (Irving Howe?) to balance the Baldwin.

Relevant to Matt G’s remarks on Hamlet criticism:  one aspect of the Norton editions of various authors that I like is the illuminating and pedagogically useful effect having more than one perspective on a single work or author.  Perhaps such an approach, if well done (Norton Criticals can be so hit-or-miss), could show students that it’s possible both to write vividly about literature and to find excitingly different ways of talking about it.  My (impracticable) ideal anthology on twentieth-century criticism could be designed to include Tantalizing Juxtapostions, like Empson and Sedgwick on Shakespeare’s sonnets.  Each sees important things that the constraints of the other’s milieu render invisible to him/her.  Maybe Trilling and Hillis Miller on Dickens.  Richard Blackmur and Samuel Delany on Hart Crane.  Bloom and Szalay on Stevens.  Sean McCann and Greg Forter on Jim Thompson.  I’d like to keep the emphasis on different perspectives rather than squabbles, because it’s too tempting for a student to miss out by prematurely taking sides.  The volume would have more of a practical-criticism focus than the Norton but not be averse to making selections in the hope of presenting as wide as possible a range of approaches, even if that includes allowing a couple of Theory Stars in.

By on 08/10/05 at 06:11 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I want to add another: Daniel Seltzer’s essay “Prince Hal and Tragic Style.” I think I learned more from this one essay than from any other comparable thing, even if it did take several years to fully sink in.

By on 08/10/05 at 08:23 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Peli, if you’re still around, sorry for taking so long to respond.  I do agree, the demands of Eliot’s “Tradition” are mainly a matter of extraordinarily clever rhetoric and really don’t hold up to logical analysis.  Even, or especially, the demand for impersonality turns out to depend for its force and implicit legitimacy on personality (i.e., really deep and suffering poets are the ones compelled to impersonality, shallow poets are the ones who get personal). So, yes, I think the appeal to tradition (along with Eliot’s cultural collectivism in general) isn’t necessary for Eliot’s other aesthetic preferences.  But it’s not incidental that this is the way Eliot opens the essay and, as he emphasizes, it’s not antiquarianism, or “blue book knowledge” that he’s endorsing.  When I point this out to my students, they’re usually quite provoked and sometimes moved by it, which helps to explain, I think, why earlier generations found the essay such a compelling and influential document.  Among other things, I like to point out how comparable Eliot’s vision of “the mind of Europe, the mind of one’s own country” (I’ve probably mangled that quotation) is, say, to Langston Hughes’s contemporaneous appeal to the blues tradition and the tom-tom beating in the Negro soul.  This is (unfortunately, I think) compelling stuff, and, I think, more than just intertextuality, it is for Eliot as for Hughes inheritance.

If I get a chance, maybe I’ll try to put up a McHale on postmodernism post so that the idea can get more discussion.  I’m not opposed myself to the thought that there is something like an aesthetic interest in ontology (or authenticity, as McHale also says, I believe) and that this differs from a literatature that stresses epistemological problems.  But the periodization and/or stylistic distinction seems all wrong to me.  Describing the interest in ontology as exchangeable (or maybe congruent with) an interet in authenticity makes the point.  It would be weird to say that modernist writers weren’t interested in authenticity--just as it seems strange to see the last part of Absalom, Absalom as fundamentally different from earlier parts, or that novel itself as fundamentally different from Light in August or Sound and Fury.  Another way to put this.  For McHale, The Turn of the Screw is the prototypical work of modernist fiction.  That seems a strange example when there’s Joyce, Lawrence, Woolf, Proust, Stein, Hemingway, etc., etc., etc. to choose among.

By on 08/10/05 at 10:45 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Sean, I’m basically in agreement with what you say about “Tradition”, except for the ultimate dependence of impersonality on personality. True, Eliot does briefly goes for an empirical depndency, but never a logical one, and one of the most remarkable passages in the essay, the “ His particular emotions may be simple, or crude, or flat.” passage, pretty much demolishes that too. 
The claim the feelings shaped and woven in poetry take a form that is categorically different from feelings experienced in life is a really strong claim for impersonality no matter what are the particular personal conditions one must be in to produce such work - Eliot possibly claims that one must be a deep tortured soul to produce good impersonal poem (Though, as I said, I think he directly negates that later on), but the claim that poems (Or merely good poems? there’s a whole issue there. Personally I think he is saying all poems are impersonal, and the good ones know how to use that while the bad ones fumble with it) are impersonal isn’t *logically* dependent on that.

I guess I basically think that “Tradition”, though significant as it is, is weaker then the sum of its part, which, dislodged from the context in which they are put, become truely great revolutionary ideas, anticipating so much work done in the formalist theory and poetic manifestos
of the ages that followed. 
I did over-slight the value of eliots meta-conclusion in the process of making that claim, and you very strongly made the case that the “living tradition” idea also very siginifcant on its own right, weather it follows from the Impersonality and Intertextuality ideas or not.

And maybe I have read McHale way to long ago and remember only the parts I’m fond of? “Authenticity” rings no bells at all for me in the context of his work.
I do have a hard time seeing how Joyce, Proust, Hemingway and so on aren’t epistemological.
As I understand McHale, his thesis is the Modernist prose deals with the interaction between the mind and a definable outer reality,
and Post-Modernism goes on to problematize the very reality the workings of the mind are set against in Modernism.

And my memory is shaky, but I do recall “The Turn Of The Screw” actually being offered a Post-Modernist reading by McHale, as by him it belongs to The Fantastic, in vaguely Todorovian terms, which McHale reinterprets as an early precedent for Post-Modernism. So I’m almost sure “The Turn Of The Screw” isn’t posited by him as the prototypical modernist fiction.

By on 08/10/05 at 12:58 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Oh, damn, Peli.  You’re gonna call my bluff.  I’m sure I remember that reference to authenticity in McHale, but maybe I’m hallucinating, or maybe it was in anohter world, or maybe in someone else, like Hutcheon. Let me search and get back to you.

I’m sure you’re right about “Screw.” Doesn’t McHale say that, like Lot 49 and Absalom and Pale Fire (a number of major texts he’s forced to put in this liminal category), it can be read one way or the other?

I don’t see Joyce or Hemingway or Proust particularly concerned with the question of how well or how reliably we can know things.  I do think they’re interested in the questions McHale suggests are typical of postmodernism: what kind of world is this?  what behavior is appropriate to it? what kind of life is possible in it?  To give one simplistic example, in The Sun Also Rises, France, Spain, and the U.S. are alternative worlds and the big issue isn’t how you can know them, but who can live in them, what action is appropriate to them, and how their differences can be maintained.

By on 08/10/05 at 01:21 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Regarding “Screw”, I think you’re right.
The thing is, and that is a big problem with McHale, that hs uses Epistemological in very wide way, meaning, vaguely “The domain of human thought and it’s intersaction with the world”. So Joyce and Proust are brutally Epistemological in that sense, as they deal witht he way thought meets with the world, including itself, and processes it.
While this is not the most accurate usage of Epistemological imaginable, I think it can be easitly defended when we remember the we speak of Epistemological in an Ontoligcal\Epistemological dichotomy that’s supposed to be all inclusive- that is, you’re either one or the other.

By on 08/10/05 at 01:42 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sorry for all the typos in my list.  It’s all part of my from-the-hip, type-first-ask-questions-later aesthetic.  I’m also a little dumb.

Re McHale: I don’t know if this has already been said, but it always seemed to me that the problem with that sort of approach to the mod/pomo divide is as much about how we *read* the texts as it is about the texts themselves.  For every “modernist” *The Waste Land* there’s a postmodernist version, critically speaking.

It is perhaps useful to think of epistemology and ontology as twin *trends* in 20th century lit.  This way, Toni Morrison—more the epistemologist than, say, Pynchon—isn’t read as some residual or throw-back or regressive artist.  Likewise, McHale’s schema can’t account for modernist or postmodernist poetics, and it would seem odd to draw some sharp line between the fiction and poetry of modernism especially.  Pound’s poetry is an ontological as it gets, and this is one of the aspects that runs through Olson and Duncan all the way to Susan Howe and Nate Mackey.  The title of a classic study of Irish poetry—*Irish Poetry since Joyce*—makes the point for me: *Finnegan’s Wake* has influenced few novelists but many poets. 

For me, the only difference between modernist and postmodernist writing is that there was a period—from the 30s to, say, the 60s—when we saw a return to forms of realism and when modernism itself became reified and removed from its crazy political and social goals.  Richard Wilbur or Robert Lowell, or Mailer and Capote, for example.  Whether we’re looking at Burroughs or Pynchon or Morrison or Bruce Andrews, what we see is a *return* to certain forms of modernist writing.  This is why I find it odd that McHale’s trope of postmodernist ontology—“the zone”—is not only derived from Burroughs’ “interzone” and Pynchon’s “zone,” but originally from Apollinaire’s poem, “Zone.” (Spelling of Ap. might be off there.) Modernist poetry = postmodern. 

At the same time, I think novelists like Morrison get at—or question the sharp line between—ontological as well as epistemological issues.  The Convent in *Paradise* is like a Pynchonian “zone”—at once an embezzler’s mansion, a Catholic convent, a school for Native Americans, and a women’s shelter.  The epistemological issue of how we know history is tied up with the ontological archaeology of the real live presence of the past in the present.  (Likewise, Pynchon’s novels are increasingly epistemological: how can we know the world in order to change it?  This is why *Vineland* faults 60s radicals for having no true strategy, no mode of analysis, no patience, in the face of a world that was far more complex than Frenesi wanted to believe.)

This is why I find Bakhtin’s notion of the chronotope more useful than static categories of epistemology, ontology, “the zone,” or what have you.  A novel’s representation of space and time, its implied scene of reception, those all get at these issues in a more supple way. 

Read all about this and more in my dissertation!  If I ever finish it.

By on 08/10/05 at 02:39 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Luther: I had a co-worker once who prefaced a memo, “I type like I live: fast, with lots of mistakes.”

And that co-worker’s name was… Wesleyan University Press!

(No, actually, it was Don Hopkins.)

I agree with your take on the mis-reifications of “modernism” and “postmodernism”, although I believe it could also be said that both “modernism” and “postmodernism” sometimes name returns to certain forms of pre-“modernist" reading and writing which seemed excluded from approved literary mainstreams. Writers of criticism, like writers of any other genre, pick up new notions when they leave the immediate neighborhood.

Of course, it never seems to take long for these excitingly transgressive vices to become habits....

By Ray Davis on 08/10/05 at 03:44 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Ray, I’ll pass on your dissatisfaction with the appropriate powers at Wes Press.  Is it the Delany in particular that’s a problem?  I have a feeling that some of those books were just reprinted directly from old editions without being reset or proofread.  Like many a university press, Wes Press struggles mightily with its bottom line.

By on 08/10/05 at 04:47 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Luther: Sure, the distinction is absolutely worthless as a chronological one regarding poetry.
But I’m rather sure it was never meant to include poetry, and was only aimed at narrative fiction.
I think the histories are different enough that any work of descriptive poetics ("poetics" used here in the Aristotelian sense, not as regarding poetry as opposed to the novel) with a chronological centre shouldn’t aspire to handle both.

If anything, a brutally inaccurate cut might be that the history there is the opposite of the one of fiction:
That Post-Modernist poetics are epistemological and Modernist ontological- Ashbery is far more epistemological than Stevens, Eliot’s canon is mostly ontological, with his most epistemological poem being Prufrock, which as Perloff has nicely argued bears as much resemblance to ( traditionally considered Post-Modernist) New-York-School aesthetics than to canonical early Modernism. And Langpo is mostly semiotic (and thus, epistemological). But I’m really just playing here, and obviously this only hold as a very rough distinction (The Howe sisters are pretty ontological from the little I have read, for example), if it holds at all.
A *huge* problem in using these terms (Ont\Epis) on poetry at all is that in poetry, dealing with ontological *themes” doesn’t usually follow from fucking with the “ontology” of the represented world in the poem- Langpo is, as I said, mostly dealing with semiotic issue, yet it fucks with ontology in the mimesis the work creates, or cancels the very basis for the mimesis.  In narrative fiction, mostly, fucking with the ontology of the represented world can be equated with dealing with ontological themes.

And you are absolutely right about the issues of readings. But I think in that case the generalizations about a period’s poetics tend to kind of affirm themselves in the case of texts that have multiple a opposing plausible readings-
Once we have a notion of the “spirit” of a period of a writer, we use that context to make a choice between various modes of reading. Thus, even though Borges showed beautiful Kafkaesque readings of a Browning poem, which aren’t textually distorting, for various contextual reasons, about Browning’s poetics and the poetics of the period, we still read the poem in question (Wish I could remember its name) in a way that makes it fit with Victorian literature.

Is all this making any sense at all? I feel like I’m not a 100% coherent here, but I’m trying my best.

Ray: A very important point in McHale is his notion of Dominants - he is never saying that all works in the Modernist era are Epistemological and all works in the Post-Modernist era ontological, he is merely trying to make a claim for the dominant, prototypical mode of the poetics of the age.
Thus, precedents to all kinds of phenomena are really more than welcome within his frame.

I’m not trying to make the case for his correctness, though, but merely for his worth:
I think he is almost right that Modernist fiction rarely touched on ontology, and kind of right that a very significant percentage of prototypical Post-Modernist fiction is. I also think his missing the essential issue, but that his giving a really good hint by pointing valuable symptoms.

By on 08/10/05 at 07:44 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Oh, and if I may tie a knot in the rope around my own neck- McHale’s scheme seems to fail to work on three of the finest, and I think most quintessentially Post-Modernist (as far as we can judge a work to be prototypical Post-Modernist intuitively, without a define scheme, which I think we can), works of recent years : The Coen’s Millers Crossing , Mammet’s Oleanna, and Stoppard’s Travesties. All very fiercely epistemologica.
Though thinking aboutit, though I can probably made that all three have some very strong Ontological elements that can not be found in Modernist works. Maybe McHale’s scehem can be recosntructed as sayign Post-Modernist fiction is prototypically conatining ntological elements, or bordering on ontological issues, to a degree that Modernist work isn’t?

By on 08/10/05 at 08:05 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Peli, I agree: McHale’s trying to discuss the dominant aspect of these two moments in fiction.  I suppose I wonder if there really *is* a different, though.  I’m still convinced that postmodernism is simply a return to the concerns of modernism that were derailed by the social realism of the 30s, the reified “spiritual” modernism of the 40s, the ethnic realism of the 30s-50s, and the non-fiction novel’s appearance.  Or, more simply put, once modernism in fiction was institutionalized—for example, by English departments—postmodernist writers had to re-read “true” modernism for themselves.  John McClure, in *Late Imperial Romance*, makes the great point that writers like Pynchon, DeLillo, Stone, and Didion all would have gone to college at a time when modernism was “the thing,” but was largely taught as a spiritual, end-of-history, apocalyptic, and aesthetic movement.  So McClure can read postmodernism as modernism colored by this institutional reading of modernism. 

I also can’t keep the difference between epis/ont in my mind for very long without losing track of them.  As *Turn of the Screw* shows, a screwed up ontology ("the zone") could simply be the result of a screwed up epistemology, and vice versa.  I don’t think Pynchon actually believes in the existence of zombies or warewolves or any of the post-secular creatures with which he populates his worlds.  We’re always meant to interpret them as physical representations of mental processes: the Thanatoids are people stuck in the past, obsessed with their wounds.  The warewolves of *Mason & Dixon*, like the Golem and the flying magicians, are all physical traces of traditional ways of thinking about the world that have been erased by science and trade (i.e., a dramatization of Weber’s disenchantment of the Western world). 

So with McHale I might agree that postmodernism displays a desire to dramatize “as the Real” what is really a way of seeing, so that the apparent loss of deep consciousness in postmodernism is only apparent—the deep consciousness of Faulkner or Woolf is still there in Pynchon, only it’s all projected out into the world.  I think this is why, from *GR* to *Vineland* and *M&D*, Pynchon’s characters have actually become deeper and deeper consciousnesses, with more history, more depth, even as the world outside of the characters remains screwy.  Pynchon realized he needn’t choose between a palimpsestic world and a deep consciousness: his characters could have depth, even as the world outside them could continue to resist any single way of knowing. 

I’ve always found McHale’s book interesting and useful.  I just don’t think a thing called “postmodernism” exists, especially as an aesthetic or stylistic strategy.  I see one general movement in literature, from Poe and Baudelaire to late James to Morrison, Pynchon, and others.  And Benjamin’s *Arcades Project* is still, I believe, the best attempt to get a handle on what the hell was happening.

By on 08/10/05 at 10:30 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Not Shelley nor Sidney: Offense is the best Defense?

(Though staging annual re-enactments is popular ...)

By on 08/10/05 at 10:43 PM | Permanent link to this comment

You’re making a really good point there- what I said about poetry is actually true about fiction as well, now that I properly think of it. Ontological “issues” within the mimesis the work creates != Ontological thematics, as the Ontological might be metaphoric to the inner, or just a bit of free-play (Though free-play can be said to be away of exploring Ontological possibilities, regardless of making claim for their reality).

McHale kind of blurs the line there, not really making the distinction between works that discuss Ontological issues and work that use Ontological elements as an Objective Correlative.
But it’s also a bit more complicated then that- many works of the current age take an Objective Correlative, and give it a metaphysical life of it’s own, which are no longer just an analogy- Think of “Being John Melkovich”, where the fantastic element is built according to a strong metaphor, but it’s course in the world, once it’s unleashed upon it, doesn’t follow an allegorical path but a metaphysical one, with Mann’s “Mario And The Magician” where the whole course if event is metaphorically translatable. In the first case, even though it’s not an Ontological exploration aimed at our own world, it surely is some kind of Ontological play.

Regardless, in my mind, and purely and only when discussing kinds of fiction, it’s Epistemology where we can contrast a characters attempts at cognizing a world against a stable established reality which he is dealing with, and Ontology where we can not establish a stable determined reality to be contrasted with the attempts at grasping it.

Personally, I do think there is the whole “poetics of indeterminacy” thing separating Post-Modernist works and Modernist works. And because very often indeterminacy involves Ontological indeterminacy ,than many Post-Modernist texts are Ontological.

As for your historical thesis- It seems very interesting, but aren’t you claiming two opposing things? First you say Pynchon and the gang tried the oppose the establishment version of Modernism, then you favorably quote a claim that they followed the establishment version. I’m a bit confused.

And I’m really showing my ignorance here, but what exactly is the spiritual Modernism of the 40’s you refer to?

By on 08/10/05 at 11:46 PM | Permanent link to this comment

(Upper post referring to luther, of course)

By on 08/10/05 at 11:47 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sean: “Is it the Delany in particular that’s a problem?”

Oh, I wish.

“I have a feeling that some of those books were just reprinted directly from old editions without being reset or proofread.”

Oh, I wish. In fact, not only have I seen original publications terribly proofread, the Wesleyan reprint I’m now looking through (Joanna Russ’s great We, Who Are About to...) has introduced errors that no one responsible for the original $1.50 paperback would’ve (or did) let pass. I understand that not every edition can be a scholarly edition, and given the way of the world I even understand that not every edition from an academic press can be a scholarly edition, but if that’s not possible couldn’t we at least ask for a facsimile, which would count as some sort of help to scholars?

Of course, this is a problem all over all kinds of presses nowadays. Wesleyan’s just my current source of pain.

[But yes, I will try to note the most obvious mistakes and then try to find someone to send them to. Thank you for the offer of help in that regard—I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. Just a bit short tempered.]

By Ray Davis on 08/11/05 at 01:48 AM | Permanent link to this comment

The “spiritual modernism” would be, say, Lowry’s *Under the Volcano* or Lowell’s *Lord Weary’s Castle* or, in the 50s, Wilbur’s *Things of This World* or early Roethke even.  The major issues here being metaphysical, often explored in “universal” ways—before Lowell is attracted to “the raw” and turns more and more confessional.  We might even say early Bellow here.  I suppose “spiritual” isn’t the best term; maybe metaphysical or a certain type of philosophical art.  I think it’s more of a poetry phenomenon than a fiction one, but I’m also painfully ignorant of the fiction of the 40s and 50s.

I like your distinction between works about knowing an otherwise stable world and works about what is posited as an almost unknowable, instable world.  I still wonder, though, whether Faulkner, say, actually wants us to believe that the “real” behind all the various perceptions is itself stable or given.  Toni Morrison has been his best student in this regard: once you piece all the narrators’ accounts together, you still don’t have a stable, ontologically secure world.

Poetry is the real spanner in the works, though.  I know that McHale’s thesis is only meant to hold true for fiction, but I don’t think—especially in modernism—you can make hard and fast separations of poetry, prose, and fiction.  From *Spring and All* and *Kora in Hell* to Pound’s work to *Cane* to *Finnegan’s Wake*, modernists wanted to break down the line between, say, lyric and narrative art. 

And let me clarify my historical thesis.  I agree with John McClure’s claim that the postmodernists received a certain strain or pre-packaged version of modernism in school and from the dominant literary journals of the time.  But I also think that novelists like Pynchon went back to the avant-garde roots of modernism, to dada and surrealism and futurism and serialism in music (note the debates about romantic and modernist music in *Gravity’s Rainbow*).  Whereas DeLillo and Didion definitely maintain a “things fall apart” apocalytipic, eschatological version of modernism in their work.  But this doesn’t mean that they are somehow ultimately different than the modernists; it just means they picked up on a different strain of modernism (a certain reading of Yeats and late Eliot for example). 

But the larger point is that each of the major postmodern novelists in America see their work as a continuation of modernism:

Morrison to Faulkner and Woolf
Pynchon to Joyce
DeLillo to Nate West
Ishmael Reed to Hurston
Doctorow to Hemingway, Dos Passos, and Fitzgerald
John Hawkes to Djuna Barnes and Celine

and so on.  This is why the timeline of African-American fiction screws things up: Ellison really re-invented black modernism (after Hurston and Toomer) at a time when modernism was a dead thing for academics.  And this is perhaps why Ellison is such an important figure for postmodern novelists in America, of all races: Pynchon, Ishmael Reed, Morrison, John Wideman, Leon Forrest, etc.  Sometimes I’m convinced that through Ellison and Burroughs, modernism was kept alive and passed on directly to so-called postmodernism.

But now I’m just making things up.

By on 08/11/05 at 01:58 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Well, I’m using Eileen John & Dom Lopes’ The Philosophy of Literature:  Classic and Contemporary Readings as the core text this Fall, though, as with most anthologies, I’m sure I’ll have to supplement it quite a bit, and I suppose that book plus the supplements would be my counter-anthology.

What would I add?  Well, on the historical side, Shaftesbury, Archibald Alison, Tolstoy, and Ferdinand Brunetiere, among others.  And on the contemporary side, essays by Charles Baxter, Susan Feagin, Paisley Livingston, Marcia Muelder Eaton, Arthur Danto, Stephen Dunn, etc.

I wind up leaving out a lot of influential figures & approaches, such as Foucault, Derrida, and Lacan.  (I do, though, manage to find room for Ingarden, Aurel Kolnai, Marcuse, and Susan Stewart.)
I warn students that my courses generally aren’t content-oriented (as in a “28 texts everyone will assume you’ve read” course), but rather problem-oriented (as in, “what puzzles do the practices of reading/writing/ interpreting/evaluating literature give rise to, what are the candidate solutions to those puzzles, and which solutions are most promising?").

By Zehou on 08/11/05 at 08:37 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Luther- I’m not in complete agreement, but I’m rather more interested in hearing more along these lines than trying to argue.
Would you argue “Ashbery to Stevens” in a similar manner? And in what lineage would you put John Barth?

By on 08/11/05 at 09:10 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Peli—Sure, Stevens is the main modernist behind Ashbery, but I wouldn’t want to insist on a one-to-one correspondence here.  Ashbery, by the time of *The Tennis Court Oath* (is that the title?), is also looking back to dada and the surrealists, as well as looking, well, sideways at his contemporary French avant-gardists.  And we can’t underestimate the importance of abstract expressionism and pop art on Ashbery, Koch, and O’Hara.  But the main point, for me, is that modernism never died or disappeared.  We can trace a fairly clear lineage—not just of influence but of shared concerns—from the mods to the post-mods.  Some critics like to insist that the lightness of the New York School is distinctly postmodern, compared to the heaviness of modernists like Pound and Eliot.  But I think the problem here is that modernism wasn’t wholly “heavy” (I’d argue that the transformation of modernism into high seriousness is again the effect of academics in the 40s and 50s).  Marjorie Perloff has shown the importance of Williams for O’Hara, and his loose, ludic, vernacular poetry is clearly also behind Ashbery, Ginsberg, Ammons, and others as well.

So once we admit the pluralism of modernism, we can see that postmodernism is really a continuation of that tradition (which, again, I’d say goes from Poe to today).  But maybe I’m just a lover of what Hayden White might call comedic history, where continuity survives change and rupture is merely an illusion.

By on 08/11/05 at 01:59 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Are there entities corresponding to “modernism” or “postmodernism” in the way that there are say “mammals” or “vertebrates,” or “real and prime numbers”? Though lit. people’s chat seem to assume there are, the categories are merely conceptual, and not inductively “sound,” nor any they any sort of axiomatic truths; they are far less defined and useful than the lit. people acknowledge. And literary studies are replete with these sort of bogus and prejudicial taxonomies (just to say “romantic” is to offer judgement).

The provisional, solipsistic nature of lit. and literary crit. would seem to require monthly “justification” essays, perhaps iterations of Shelley’s In Defense of Poesy; additionally, in this post-analytical age, a condensed chapter on verification and other basic truth issues might be included in Anthologies or required as part of lit. courses: whether v. ala CS Pierce’s “what difference does the truth or falsity of this theory/statement/literature entail,” or Ayers, “statements must be capable of be confirmed to be meaningful,” or Popper: “those ideas/claims/theories which are not falsifiable are dogma....”

but that would sort of jeopardize the entire Anthology bidness, if not Belle-Lettres Inc.

By H. Bilious Greyface the 9th on 08/11/05 at 02:28 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Yes, operationalizing literary criticism and verifying the truth-values of fictional works would vertainly revolutionize lit crit.

By John Emerson on 08/11/05 at 02:57 PM | Permanent link to this comment

You’re welcome to send them to me, Ray.  I can pass them on and make sure your complaints are heard.  I think the Press does care even if it’s not currently doing the job it should.  Meanwhile, I’ll send along the general complaint.  The sci-fi line is very important to Wesleyan press.

By on 08/11/05 at 03:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I propose that the works of major literary figures are best described as dogma. Shakespeare’s “corpus” is dogma, far more than it is any type of philosophical or scientific treatise: the “First Folio” has more in common with canonical texts, with Scripture, and with scholasticism of the middle ages than it does with a value-neutral inductivism and the “spirit of disinterested inquiry” which commences with Francis Bacon. The current parisian-influenced literary criticism as upheld in the Norton anthologies (and in the universities) does little to nothing to challenge the dogmatic nature of the literature business.

Indeed, the thought and dialogue of Shakespeare’s plays has not yet reached Socratic levels of rational discussion and inquiry; and all sorts of pre-Gallilean follies and superstitions may be found in Shakespeare: Ptolemaic astronomy, various occult concepts (read the Tempest for proof of that), vaguely aristocratic and biblical themes.  Shakespeare is profoundly anti-democratic, and if one views the First Folio as a sort of the foundation for English and American belle-lettres it’s not incorrect to view the entire contemporary Lit. business as inherently anti-democratic, dogmatic, and irrational, and in principle opposed to the principles of the American and french revolutions, though many lit. types implicitly approve of Robespierre- like brutality, or the ancien regime itself. THe marxist leanings of many current lit. people continue that dogmaticism and anti-democratic nature: whereas the elite clerics and scholars of the ancient aristocratic universities such as Oxford formerly defended the King, church, and attacked the “rebels” and peasants, the current literary elitists defend the State (and in fact represent a sort of pagan state), and attack the bourgeois, while still largely upholding anti-democratic and anti-rational views.

By H. Bilious Greyface the 9th on 08/11/05 at 04:31 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Greyface, you write as if the scientific method were the only way of approaching truth.  Frank Ankersmit has gone after such claims in *Sublime Historical Experience*, showing the paucity of Davidson, Quine, and Tarski in the face of historicism.  As Ankersmit argues, the “facts” in history are never what’s debated.  In fact, as he shows, many opposing historical accounts are built on exactly the same “data set.” T-statements are of no use in the writing of history.

Secondly, studying texts about, say, monsters doesn’t mean that the studier believes in them.  To say that literary criticism shares the politics or social vision or scientific beliefs of Shakespeare (and why Shakespeare, exactly?) is like saying that an anthropologist shares the beliefs and practices of those s/he studies.  It’s a patently false and stupid idea. 

Art is not dogma, nor can it be.  Shakespeare, for example, never demands that his audience actually believe that ghosts exist, that witches can predict the future, that magicians can turn spirits into their servants.  Nor did he himself actually believe these things.  The “suspension of disbelief” that the audience practices is not the same as “belief” itself—in fact, long before the scientific method was a gleam in its daddies’ eyes, artists and audiences were learning how to distance or bracket their own beliefs and feelings when entering into a fictional world. 

Finally, terms like “modernism” and “postmodernism” are only heuristics.  Models.  They have no meaning outside of a larger system that defines and delimits them.  As such, they can have pragmatic value: grouping like-minded artists together, showing trends and tendencies in art history.  As in history, the “facts” in literary studies are not usually what’s debated.  It’s the relationships between these facts—the representation of these facts in critical writing—that is debated.  And again, as with history, Ankersmit does a great job of showing how little the philosophy of history has to add to these fields. 

Or, to paraphrase the Tractatus again, science needs to shut up about what it cannot speak about in its own language.

By on 08/11/05 at 05:56 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The final line in the penultimate paragraph above should read: “showing how little the philosophy of *science* has to add to these fields.”

By on 08/11/05 at 05:58 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Luther- Is there currently a Luther fan-club one can join? If there is, I would very much like to sign up (Or, to parpahrase- Brilliant response to Greyface, you rcok) .

By on 08/11/05 at 06:30 PM | Permanent link to this comment

the “facts” in history are never what’s debated.  In fact, as he shows, many opposing historical accounts are built on exactly the same “data set.” T-statements are of no use in the writing of history.

I haven’t read Ankersmit, but I don’t think the most die-hard positivist or inductivist would claim that truth is merely confirming facts/data, though that is a significant part of the truth process, and perhaps the most essential aspect of inductivism, whether history or biology or economics (it is fairly safe to assert that literature fits better in the inductive/synthetic category than as any type of axiomatic or analytical thought). Thomas Kuhn, following much of Quine’s work, would claim I think that once the facts are ascertained (again, what facts literature might be pointing to is always problematic), then the theories/hypotheses are constructed-derived-suggested. History writing proceeds by that model as well, unless perhaps the historian begins from grand metaphysical scheme such as Hegelianism or Catholocism: if that is the case, and the facts are being wedged into some person’s theory to support some bizarre model of historical unfolding (Ja, Der WeltGeist!) then it would seem the historian IS operating in the world of dogma. So yes, a catholic historian might view facts far differently than would a secular historian, but that doesn’t at all mean that a catholic’s account is more legitimate: if the scholar doesn’t agree to materialism, of economic, biological or historical type, then he could produce strange, mystical accounts of historical process (oh that’s right someone already did that-- Hegel).  History writing is predicated on the facts of the historical record, and as those facts are updated or revised, any theories or explanations will change; same with say evolutionary theory. 

AS far as the Tractatus, Wittgenstein pretty upholds the propositions of natural science as being valid types of truth statements (section 6) and so there is little evidence for anti-scientism; W. also stresses throughout the TLP that the constituents of the propositions--names, variables--refer to objects in the real world, as do the propositions made up of those constituents: the meaning of the name/variable is the object it refers to, in early Witt, or the representation of that object in the brain brought about by the word/variable. Thus statements about “Pegasus” are quite different than statements about, say, the Moon. IM not exactly sure, but I don’t think the early Witt. would approve of statements about “Pegasus”; though I am not sure I would go so far as to classify the TLP as nominal, it offers little hope for idealist or platonic dreams. W. may see some human activities beyond science or logic but where does he suggest literature is of that sort?

By H. Bilious Greyface the 9th on 08/11/05 at 08:05 PM | Permanent link to this comment

There are writers who are aware of these issues: Thomas Pynchon, the catholic writer Walker Percy (though I don’t agree with his conclusions), Updike perhaps ("Roger’s Version” a pretty cool read), PK Dick and cyperpunks. It is the French critics who generally are not following the idealism-materialist-behaviorist issues, nor the syntax/semantics/technology issues; perhaps Baudrillard does from what I have read, but Baudrillard has a great deal of mysticism and routinely advances these grand speculations which seem quite pointless.

By H. Bilious Greyface the 9th on 08/11/05 at 08:55 PM | Permanent link to this comment


Ankersmit’s point is that the sciences and history work in very different ways: “The difference between the prehistorist [Hume] and the historist [Ranke or Humboldt] does not concern empirical issues, nor is it the case that the prehistorist would be unable or would deny to see change where it is seen by the historist; it is not a difference about *truth*, but about how to *conceptualize* the past and about what ‘forms’ we should appeal to in order to account for the past.  This is what urged historists such as Ranke and Humboldt to develop their notion of the historical idea, giving us the form of a historical epoch, nation, or institution, which we would nowadays describe as a representation of the past” (51).

Ankersmit is writing here about Davidson’s notion of radical interpretation here.  I continue quoting:

“These historical ideas or representations of the past do not involve—or at least not necessarily so—disagreements about the facts, about what has or has not been the case in the past.  Representations of the past consist of true statements about the past; and the difference between individual representations of the past can therefore not be defined in terms of truth and falsity *but only in terms of the difference in sets of true statements about the past constituting these individual representations of the past.* Truth is taken for granted in the writing of history and is relegated to a mere preliminary phase in all that historical writing and discussion is about.  In historical writing and in historical discussion the issue is not truth or falsity but what are the relevant truths.  And what are the relevant truths or not can sui generis not be defined in terms of truth, since this concerns a fact about truth and hence is not something that can properly be analyzed in terms of truth itself.  It follows that Davidson’s conception of radical interpretation does not qualify as a suitable model for the writing of history and that it will not enable us to penetrate the secrets of historical understanding.  If a historical representation is interpreted in terms of another one, truth is not at stake; and an appeal to Tarski’s T-sentences to ensure interpretation would be useless” (51-52).

And I never argues that the Tractatus displayed anti-scientism.  Of course not.  But the final sentence does circumnscribe the areas in which a positivist discourse can operate.  Some critics have viewed this as W’s attempt to preserve art and ethics and religion from being deformed by scientism—and vice versa, to protect science from religion, ethics, and art.  In this sense, the final moment of the Tractatus would open up to the language games of the Investigations. 

[And Peli, thanks for your support!]

By on 08/11/05 at 09:35 PM | Permanent link to this comment

This might as well go here as anywhere. If you look at the rankings for, e.g. Foucault and Derrida you’ll see Theory at work.


I found the list at this URL, where you will also find some discussion of the list:

“A Different Sort of Great-Books List: The 50 Twentieth-Century Works Most Cited in the Arts & Humanities Citation Index, 1976-1983”.  

(from, Essays of an Information Scientist, Vol. 10, p.101, 1987. Current Comments #16, April 20, 1987. By Eugene Garfield, Institute for Scientific Information, Philadelphia.)  

(ranking of the book on the list, from 1-50, is indicated by the number in brackets after the title, e.g. [4]. See also the list sorted by rank.  

Auerbach, E. Mimesis: the Representation of Reality in Western Literature (1946). [46]
Austin, J. L. How to Do Things with Words. (1962). [19]
Bakhtin, M. M. Rabelais and his World. (1965). [41]
Barthes, R. S/Z. (1970). [8]
Benveniste, E. Problems in General Linguistics. (1966). [31]
Berger, P. L., and Luckmann, T. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. (1966). [40]
Booth, W. C. The Rhetoric of Fiction. (1961). [24]
Chomsky, N. Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. (1965). [5]
Chomsky, N. and Halle, M. The Sound Pattern of English. (1968). [17]
Chomsky, N. Chomsky Syntactic Structures. (1957). [35]
Culler, J. Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics, and the Study of Literature. (1975). [15]
Curtius, E. R. European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. (1948). [10]
Derrida, J. Of Grammatology. (1967). [7]
Derrida, J. Writing and Difference. (1967). [34]
Eco, U. A Theory of Semiotics. (1976). [45]
Eliot, T. S. The Waste Land. (1922). [18]
Foucault, M. The Order of Things. (1966). [6]
Freud, S. The Interpretation of Dreams. (1900). [26]
Frye, N. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. (1957). [3]
Gadamer, H-G. Truth and Method. (1960). [11]
Genette, G. Figures. (1966). [16]
Gombrich, E. H. Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation. (1960). [47]
Habermas, J. Knowledge and Human Interests. (1968). [49]
Heidegger, M. Being and Time. (1927). [9]
Hirsch, E. D. Validity in Interpretation. (1967). [37]
Iser, W. The Act of Reading (1976). [43]
Jacobson, R. “Linguistics and Poetics”. (1960) [36]
Joyce, J. Finnegan’s Wake. (1939). [13]
Joyce, J. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. (1916). [23]
Joyce, J. Joyce Ulysses. (1922). [2]
Kripke, S. A. “Naming and Necessity”. (1972). [30]
Kuhn, T. S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. (1962). [1]
Lacan, J. Lacan Ecrits. (1966). [33]
Levi-Strauss, C. Structural Anthropology. (1958). [25]
Levi-Strauss, C. The Savage Mind. (1962). [38]
Merleau-Ponty, M. Phenomenology of Perception. (1945). [42]
Popper, K. R. Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge. (1963). [32]
Popper, K. R. The Logic of Scientific Discovery. (1935). [50]
Popper, K. R. Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach. (1972). [44]
Pound, E. The Cantos of Ezra Pound. (1925). [39]
Propp, V. Y. Morphology of the Folktale. (1928). [27]
Proust, M. Remembrance of Things Past. (1914). [21]
Quine, W. V. O. Word and Object. (1960). [20]
Rawls, J. A Theory of Justice. (1971). [12]
Sartre, J-P. Being and Nothingness. (1943). [29]
Saussure, F. D. Course in General Linguistics. (1915). [28]
Searle, J. R. Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language. (1969). [14]
Thompson, E. P. The Making of the English Working Class. (1964). [48]
Wittgenstein, L. Philosophical Investigations. (1953). [4]
Wittgenstein, L. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. (1922). [22]  

By bbenzon on 08/13/05 at 01:10 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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