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off to a promising start with Aristotle, then suffers an endless series of interpretative swerves into error, sometimes redeemed (as at present) by signs of a formalist revival. But this position is oddly compromised by Todorov's willingness to cede the whole domain of poetics to a larger, more powerful or demystifying rhetoric, belonging to semiotics or the generalized 'typology of discourses'. His text thus doses on a note of grave resignation. 'No sooner born than poetics finds itself called upon, by the very power of its results, to sacrifice itself on the altar of general knowledge. And it is not certain that this fate must be regretted.' Todorov's text therefore stands as witness to the conflicts and divisions produced by the past two decades of intense theoretical activity. Its usefulness is twofold, depending on how one chooses to read Todorov's arguments. As a primer on formalist and structuralist jxwtics it brings together a wide range of theories French, Russian, and Anglo-American in lucid expository style. Whatever his doubts about the structuralist projection and its over-reliance on linguistic models, Todorov presents a convincing case for its value as part of a larger, more flexible approach. On the other hand his text can be read in diagnostic fashion as revealing the tensions which still exist in current attempts to pass 'beyond' formalism and structuralism in the name of a textual semiotics freed from tbeir inbuilt ideological constraints. This shift may be seen as politically charged (Foucault), or as marking a kind of libertarian break with tbe authority of structure (Derrida and Barthes). Todorov's text, by its very ambivalence, faces up to questions which tend to be ignored in the heady post-structuralist wake. ^ .


Re-Reading English. Edited by PETER W'IDDOWSON. (New Accents Series) London and New York: Methuen. 1982. x +246 pp. 3.95. Deconstruction: Theory and Practice. By CHRISTOPHER NORRIS. (New Accents Series) London and New York: Methuen. 1982. ix-t- 157 pp. 6.50 (paperbound 295)Anyone who believes that literary studies are indeed in a serious state may well turn to Peter Widdowson's volume for an analysis and possible solutions. The opening essays suggest in a promisingly personal way the direct, radical, and historical engagement the authors of the whole volume wish to make. Unfortunately, the volume taken as a whole does not bear out this promise. In fact, to the extent that it is consciously a volume unified by a common purpose rather than a series of separate essays on a common subject, the weaker pieces have an increasingly contagious effect on the more sophisticated ones. Most of the essays are written from an explicitly socialist point of view to make the general (and properiy important) point tbat the whole world of academic letters and teaching works within a complex of assumptions which are ultimately social and largely unexamined. But for persons of reasonable good faith who wish to live an examined life there remains the problem of how far one can know or question oneself at this radical level. Hence the theoretical reiteration of this imperative is less to the point than some concrete critical exemplification might be. But in tbe volume as a whole not only is tbe specific discussion of literature of varying persuasiveness in itself but it is usually ancillary to the general ideological point. Even where the particular literary case bas been wortb making, it does not necessarily make the general argument more convincing; nor does the prose of ideological rigour in whicb much of the volume is written communicate, to my mind, a superior veracity. To speak of academic departments (approvingly) as 'sites of intellectual production'



(p. 88) compares unfavourably with Lawrence's equally mythic conception of thinking as man in his wholeness 'wholly attending'. Indeed, used in a more ironic spirit, the phrase would aptly epitomize what is wrong with so much ofthe actnity enshrined in academic publication. Indeed, as so often, the question arises whether the proposed cure is not itself a symptom. The useful things in the volume seem to me those with a frankly (and properly) journalistic purpose. These include the opening historical survey of English studies; Graham Martin's account of the institutional pressures, for good and ill, on the devising of courses in the Open University; the parallel account of working within the purview ofthe CNAA; and Derek Longhurst's essay on wartime criticism of Shakespeare and its aftermath. However, the nub of the matter is the underlying ideological critique; its unifying factor is a continuing and increasingly ironic relation to F. R. Leavis which acts as a ground bass to the principal theme. Leavis is cited at several points as conveniently embodying the traditional academic conception of criticism. There is an ironic justice in this, since although the most common reaction to Leavis in academic circles is one of ready, if not contemptuous, dismissal, his general position is silently relied upon most ofthe time to underpin it. At the same time, his project of making English studies the arena in which to bring together other fields of enquiry, such as philosophy and history, is closely related to what all the contributors ofthe present volume want to see. Hence his double function throughout as both ally and whipping-boy. Catherine Belsey s essay on Leavis and Daniel Deronda, right in the middle of the volume, enacts this ambivalence. She criticizes Leavis for appealing to such 'subjective' values as maturity and for his telling insensitivity, in the post-war world, in seeking to make 'judgement of relative human value' (p. 128). But Leavis's phrase as quoted carries no implication of seeking to determine the relative value of human beings; and just as one might counter her comment by remarking that the Nuremberg trials or the Normandy landings were a necessary, if highly problematic, 'judgement of relative human value', so her feminist reading o( Daniel Deronda also ultimately appeals to an apodictic sense that some attitudes to women are preferable to, if not more mature than, others. Once again, the particular critical case does not justify the larger issue of principle it seeks to exemplify, and indeed witnesses against it. The underlying attitude of ambivalence towards Leavis comes to its climax in the penultimate essay by David Craig and Michael Egan. This essay, curiously but perhaps tactfully, does not mention Leavis in proposing its new ideal of'historicist' criticism. For this turns out in effect to be the Leavisian relation of 'literature' to 'experience', although it is spelled out with a theoretical ineptitude that opens it to all the objections traditionally made against Leavis. The authors even appeal, against the tendency of their own preceding argument, to the word 'aesthetic' (p. 215) in a way that precisely exemplifies Leavis's famous comment that this word almost invariably signals, in this context, a loss of grip. Actually, the two authors have an important and essentially Leavisian point to make but, with their essay, the whole volume is drawn into tbe trap of supposing that Leavis's unwillingness to theorize explicitly on such matters was evidence of a theoretical naivety on his part. In this respect, the volume suggests a further generation of failure to confront Leavis; there is once again an ostensible critique, with an implicit de facto assimilation of his position. Now that we are all securely free from 'vulgar' Marxism, who is to save us from vulgar deconstructionism? As it happens, Christopher Norris's closely-argued account of 'deconstruction' explains some ofthe theoretical difficulties on which the Re-Reading English volume notably snags, Dr Norris also exercises an admirable j>erspicacity in dealing with the problems of presenting his subject at an introductory level problems which lie in the tactical domain as much as in the purely ccmceptual. 'Deconstruction' desig-



nates a kind of intellectual stance and manner rather than a single conceptual position, so that when it is stated as a position it is likely to become inert in proportion as it becomes comprehensible. Dr Norris conveys something of the method and feel of deconstructionist thinking without any misbegotten attempt to imitate it. Another problem is that it is to such a large extent the single-handed, even eccentric achievement of Jacques Derrida, although its importance, if it has any, must be of a more general kind. While focusing strongly on Derrida, Dr Norris locates him in terms of key strains in earlier twentieth-century literary and philosophical thought and then goes on to discuss his impact on Anglo-Saxon (which in this context means principally American) thinking. In this way Derrida has his proper force not merely as an 'influence' irrupting from another plane, but as the articulation of deep and pervasive anxieties about the nature of literature, criticism, and language at large. The key figure for locating Derrida in this way is Nietzsche, on whom Dr Norris concentrates centrally and helpfully. As we know from certain scientific discoveries that were at first ignored, an ambience of receptivity is as important for a new idea as is its clear conceptual formulation. Perhaps the importance of Derrida is partly that he provided the context for a fuller understanding of Nietzsche, even if Nietzsche still provides the standard by which we can assess Derrida's limitations. For it is only within a deconstructionist ambience that Nietzsche can be truly contemporary. As Dr Norris makes clear, ail this is a rather different thing from 'influence'. It is precisely because Derrida is not merely a disciple of Nietzsche, but has found his own route and his own terms, that he is able to provide, for us, such a fertile conjunction with him. This larger historical grip is manifest throughout as a sense of proportion. Dr Norris gives a generous explication of most of the writers he mentions but, although his subject could so easily lend itself to the evasions of the profession2tl academic, his own judgement is always clear and to the point. He is correspondingly alert to the deadliness of the routines whereby a fresh and unorthodox way of thinking itself becomes in turn the fashionable exercise. In the same spirit be brings some tart intelligence to bear on such matters as Jonathan GuUer's domestication of structuralism, the supposed debate on realism, and some aspects of Derrida's influence in .America. But the most important single issue on which to exercise this judgement is the relation of deconstructionism to Marxism, on which he seems to me persuasive. ^ Marxist will naturally, even inevitably, use the insights and methods of structuralism in a critique of the bourgeois social and cultural order; yet the full impact of deconstructionist thinking, which grew out of structuralism, would equally undermine the basis of a Marxist world-view. Dr Norris reviews some attempts to reconcile these competing principles and concludes that they are inherently incompatible. He notes in the course of this that Derrida himself has generally refrained from engaging the question of Marxism directly and, whatever implications we may see in that for Derrida himself, there is surely a pertinent lesson in it for the preceding volume discussed in this review. A socialist critique that uses a highly theoretical argument must be especially careful not to occupy the very property it has condemned. The other large area where readers might wish to have guidance on the implications of deconstruction is Freudianism. Dr Norris gives a passing mention to this subject, which presumably implies that there is ultimately little significant impact ~ or that creating the terms for the discussion would take him too far out of his way. Nevertheless, it would have been interesting to see in detail what kind ofa purchase the deconstructionist activity can get on a Lacanized Freud or to see why it cannot. However, there are limits to what can be undertaken, and this volume packs a dosely-reasoned and wide-ranging argument into the given compass.