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Beyond Textualism

Christopher Norris, 19 January 1984

Text Production 
by Michael Riffaterre, translated by Terese Lyons.
Columbia, 341 pp., $32.50, September 1983, 0 231 05334 7
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Writing and the Experience of Limits 
by Philippe Sollers, edited by David Hayman, translated by Philip Barnard.
Columbia, 242 pp., $31.50, September 1983, 0 231 05292 8
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The Reach of Criticism: Method and Perception in Literary Theory 
by Paul Fry.
Yale, 239 pp., £18, October 1984, 0 300 02924 1
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Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism 
by Paul de Man, edited by Wlad Godzich.
Methuen, 308 pp., £7.50, November 1983, 0 416 35860 8
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Displacement: Derrida and After 
edited by Mark Krupnick.
Indiana, 198 pp., £9.75, December 1983, 0 253 31803 3
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Authoritarian Fictions: The Ideological Novel as a Literary Genre 
by Susan Rubin Suleiman.
Columbia, 299 pp., £39, August 1983, 0 231 05492 0
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... One gets the impression from Riffaterre’s book that he enjoys playing single-minded hedgehog to the foxy representatives of Parisian post-structuralist fashion. Despite some fairly arcane terminology, he is basically an old-style formalist whose forays into theory are largely in the service of traditional interpretative ends. The literary text, for Riffaterre, is an object of patient and erudite close-reading, a ‘monument’ whose utterly distinctive character the critic sets out to describe and explain ...

From Plato to Nato

Christopher Norris, 7 July 1983

Literary Theory: An Introduction 
by Terry Eagleton.
Blackwell, 244 pp., £15, May 1983, 0 631 13258 9
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Essays on Fiction 1971-82 
by Frank Kermode.
Routledge, 227 pp., £9.95, May 1983, 0 7100 9442 6
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Deconstructive Criticism: An Advanced Introduction 
by Vincent Leitch.
Hutchinson, 290 pp., £15, January 1983, 0 09 150690 5
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Readings and Writings: Semiotic Counter-Strategies 
by Peter Wollen.
Verso, 228 pp., £15, March 1983, 0 86091 055 5
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Knowing the Poor: A Case-Study in Textual Reality Construction 
by Bryan Green.
Routledge, 221 pp., £12.95, February 1983, 0 7100 9282 2
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... Eagleton’s book is both a primer and a postmortem. It surveys the varieties of recent and present-day literary theory, only to suggest – in its closing chapter – that they had better be abandoned in the interests of a practical, transformative involvement in cultural politics. Like Wittgenstein at the end of the Tractatus, Eagleton asks his reader to think, and think hard, about the theories on offer; then, having achieved a perspective that transcends them, to kick away the ladder and enjoy the prospect thus afforded ...

Mortal Scripts

Christopher Norris, 21 April 1983

Writing and the Body 
by Gabriel Josipovici.
Harvester, 142 pp., £15.95, September 1982, 0 7108 0495 4
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The Definition of Literature and Other Essays 
by W.W. Robson.
Cambridge, 267 pp., £19.50, November 1982, 0 521 24495 1
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... In the present climate of polemical exchange one may doubt whether Gabriel Josipovici would take very kindly to being enlisted on the side of ‘literary theory’. Though his essays make reference to figures like Barthes and Derrida, they do so with an air of studied detachment, as if to forestall any charge of deeper complicity. If it comes to a straight choice between ‘interpretation’ and ‘theory’ – however unreal the terms of that choice – Josipovici is in the business of interpreting texts, and only has time for theoretical diversions when they happen to point up a reading or adorn a theme ...

Textual theory at the bar of reason

Christopher Norris, 18 July 1985

Dialectic of Nihilism: Post-Structuralism and Law 
by Gillian Rose.
Blackwell, 232 pp., £22.50, August 1984, 0 631 13191 4
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... This book is by far the most sustained and intelligent critique of post-structuralist theory yet published in Britain or America. It is argued from an adversary stance, but with a vigour and passion all too rare among opponents of ‘theory’ in whatever threatening shape or guise. According to Rose, it is the fault of post-structuralism, not that it has become too much embroiled in theoretical issues, but that it has failed to think through the problems bequeathed by philosophers in the critical tradition descending from Kant ...

Names

Christopher Norris, 20 February 1986

Signéponge/Signsponge 
by Jacques Derrida, translated by Richard Rand.
Columbia, 160 pp., $20, March 1984, 0 231 05446 7
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... There are many possible ways to describe Derrida’s text, none of them adequate but some less misleading than others. One can begin on safe ground, surely, by saying that Signsponge is ‘about’ the French writer Francis Ponge; that it involves a sustained and intricate meditation on the status of proper names and signatures in general; that it takes up themes from Derrida’s previous writing, notably from Limited Inc, his exchange with John Searle on the topic (supposedly) of speech-act philosophy; and that Signsponge is perhaps his most extravagant text to date, judged by all the normal, reputable standards of literary-critical practice ...

Semiotics Right and Left

Christopher Norris, 4 September 1986

On Signs: A Semiotics Reader 
edited by Marshall Blonsky.
Blackwell, 536 pp., £27.50, September 1985, 0 631 10261 2
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... The sheer bulk of this volume – as well as its highly miscellaneous character – suggests one of the problems about modern semiotics, considered as a discipline or field of study. It is hard to draw the line as to just what should count as a properly ‘semiotic’ line of enquiry, given that the field extends to every kind of signifying process or activity ...

Some Versions of Narrative

Christopher Norris, 2 August 1984

Hermeneutics: Questions and Prospects 
edited by Gary Shapiro and Alan Sica.
Massachusetts, 310 pp., February 1984, 0 87023 416 1
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The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge 
by Jean-Francois Lyotard, translated by Geoff Bennington, Brian Massumi and Fredric Jameson.
Manchester, 110 pp., £23, August 1984, 0 7190 1450 6
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Literary Meaning: From Phenomenology to Deconstruction 
by William Ray.
Blackwell, 228 pp., £17.50, April 1984, 0 631 13457 3
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The Philosophy of the Novel: Lukacs, Marxism and the Dialectics of Form 
by J.M. Bernstein.
Harvester, 296 pp., £25, February 1984, 0 7108 0011 8
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Criticism and Objectivity 
by Raman Selden.
Allen and Unwin, 170 pp., £12.50, April 1984, 9780048000231
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... Philosophers are understandably aggrieved when literary critics presume to instruct them in the finer points of textual interpretation. Particularly irksome is the claim of conceptual rhetoricians like Paul de Man that philosophy has not yet caught up with ‘elementary refinements’ that criticism has long since taken for granted. Deconstruction goes furthest towards contesting the status of philosophy by showing how its concepts finally come down to the ‘unmasterable’ play of linguistic figuration ...

Reading as a woman

Christopher Norris, 4 April 1985

Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy 
by Mary Daly.
Women’s Press, 407 pp., £14.95, January 1985, 9780704328471
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Feminist Literary Studies: An Introduction 
by K.K. Ruthven.
Cambridge, 162 pp., £16.50, December 1984, 0 521 26454 5
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Women: The Longest Revolution 
by Juliet Mitchell.
Virago, 334 pp., £5.95, April 1984, 0 86068 399 0
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Hélène Cixous: Writing the Feminine 
by Verena Andermatt Conley.
Nebraska, 181 pp., £20.35, March 1985, 0 8032 1424 3
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Women who do and women who don’t 
by Robyn Rowland.
Routledge, 242 pp., £5.95, May 1984, 0 7102 0296 2
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The Sexual Politics of Jean-Jacques Rousseau 
by Joel Schwartz.
Chicago, 196 pp., £14.45, June 1984, 0 226 74223 7
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... Why these books should have come to a male reviewer is perhaps more a question for the editor than myself. All the same, it is an issue that can hardly be ducked in the context of present-day feminist debate. Is it possible for a well-disposed male heterosexual to ‘read as a woman’, overcoming all the gender-based habits and assumptions imposed by a rigidly patriarchal culture? Jonathan Culler argues as much in the opening chapters of his recent book On Deconstruction ...

Paul de Man’s Past

Christopher Norris, 4 February 1988

... On 1 December 1987 the New York Times ran a piece under the title ‘Yale Scholar’s Articles Found in Nazi Paper’. The scholar in question was the late Paul de Man, who had written these pieces during the early Forties before leaving Belgium for America. They were published in Le Soir, a newspaper of pro-Nazi sympathies, and contain many passages that can be read as endorsing what amounts to a collaborationist line ...

Theory and Truth

Frank Kermode, 21 November 1991

Minor Prophecies: The Literary Essay in the Culture Wars 
by Geoffrey Hartman.
Harvard, 252 pp., £23.95, October 1991, 0 674 57636 5
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Spinoza and the Origins of Modern Critical Theory 
by Christopher Norris.
Blackwell, 240 pp., £30, July 1990, 0 631 17557 1
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What’s wrong with Postmodernism: Critical Theory and the Ends of Philosophy 
by Christopher Norris.
Harvester, 287 pp., £40, October 1990, 0 7450 0714 7
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... hermeneutics’ into ‘ordinary speech’ they let too much of the substance leak away. And Christopher Ricks has his own especially irritating way of using ‘ordinary-language type of analysis against all who attempt theory’. We have here a mixture of disapproval and envy. Disapproval of English critical ‘conversation’ spills over into a censure ...

Plain English

Denis Donoghue, 20 December 1984

Nineteen Eighty-Four: Facsimile Edition 
by George Orwell, edited by Peter Davison.
Secker, 291 pp., £25, July 1984, 9780436350221
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Nineteen Eighty-Four 
by George Orwell, edited by Bernard Crick.
Oxford, 460 pp., £17.50, March 1984, 0 19 818521 9
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Inside the Myth. Orwell: Views from the Left 
edited by Christopher Norris.
Lawrence and Wishart, 287 pp., £12.50, November 1984, 0 85315 599 2
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The Crystal Spirit: A Study of George Orwell 
by George Woodcock.
Fourth Estate, 287 pp., £5.95, November 1984, 0 947795 05 7
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Orwell’s London 
by John Thompson.
Fourth Estate, 119 pp., £9.95, November 1984, 0 947795 00 6
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... Deirdre Beddoe, Stephen Sedley, Lynette Hunter, Andy Croft, Stuart Hall, Antony Easthope and Christopher Norris. The attacks are now commonplace. Raymond Williams and other writers have been making them for several years. What they amount to is this: Orwell, ostensibly a man of the Left, made his work available to the Cold War wretches on the ...

Return of the real

A.D. Nuttall, 23 April 1992

Uncritical Theory: Post-Modernism, Intellectuals and the Gulf War 
by Christopher Norris.
Lawrence and Wishart, 218 pp., £9.99, February 1992, 0 85315 752 9
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... Deconstruction; these people really can’t adjust, can they?’ In fact, they are the words of Christopher Norris, the leading British Deconstructionist, who knows his Derrida, has worked, so to speak, at the coal-face of the subject, and is therefore in rather a good position to make judgments. The passage quoted is in no way untypical of the ...

Sabotage

John Sturrock, 31 March 1988

The Tain of the Mirror: Derrida and the Philosophy of Reflection 
by Rodolphe Gasché.
Harvard, 348 pp., £19.95, December 1986, 0 674 86700 9
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Derrida 
by Christopher Norris.
Fontana, 271 pp., £4.95, November 1987, 0 00 686057 5
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The Truth in Painting 
by Jacques Derrida, translated by Geoff Bennington and Ian McLeod.
Chicago, 386 pp., £39.95, October 1987, 0 226 14323 6
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The Postcard: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond 
by Jacques Derrida, translated by Alan Bass.
Chicago, 521 pp., £36.75, August 1987, 0 226 14320 1
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The Archaeology of the Frivolous: Reading Condillac 
by Jacques Derrida, translated by John Leavey.
Nebraska, 143 pp., $7.95, June 1987, 0 8032 6571 9
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... for philosophy is the aim, happily, of both Rodolphe Gasché’s The Tain of the Mirror and Christopher Norris’s Modern Master volume. Gasché’s is a formidable book, a dense, none too easy, but splendidly full and orderly synthesis of Derrida’s thought, which makes a meticulous case for him as a philosopher of real substance, given ...

Untheory

Alexander Nehamas, 22 May 1986

Contest of Faculties: Philosophy and Theory after Deconstruction 
by Christopher Norris.
Methuen, 247 pp., £16, November 1985, 0 416 39939 8
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Philosophical Profiles 
by Richard Bernstein.
Polity, 313 pp., £25, January 1986, 0 7456 0226 6
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Against Theory: Literary Studies and the New Pragmatism 
edited by W.J.T. Mitchell.
Chicago, 146 pp., £12.75, November 1985, 0 226 53226 7
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... Yet, though the lines of battle have been starkly drawn, the engagements are seldom direct. Christopher Norris describes the situation perceptively in The Contest of Faculties, paying special attention to one of the parties on the literary side of the dispute: ‘Deconstructionists,’ he writes, ‘continue to snipe from the sidelines at a ...

Cold Feet

Frank Kermode, 22 July 1993

Essays on Renaissance Literature. Vol. I: Donne and the New Philosophy 
by William Empson, edited by John Haffenden.
Cambridge, 296 pp., £35, March 1993, 0 521 44043 2
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William Empson: The Critical Achievement 
edited by Chistopher Norris and Nigel Mapp.
Cambridge, 319 pp., £35, March 1993, 0 521 35386 6
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... work hitherto much less influential than the very early (and prodigious) Seven Types of Ambiguity. Christopher Norris comes right out and calls Complex Words ‘a work of deconstruction’. His collection is meant to demonstrate that Empson can be accommodated in modern theory. It can now be shown that he was in many ways anticipating the interests and ...

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