Volume 30 Number 2

Michael Payne and Mark Neuman (Eds.)

Self, Sign, and Symbol

1987
177 pages
ISBN 0838751083
Bucknell Review

If a text is autonomous can it offer us knowledge? If texts are detached from biography and history, then why it is possible to identify individual styles and to detect widespread interest in particular genres and other conventions that are more pronounced in one age than in another? Why is it that certain texts - indeed, some of the most profound ones - appear to turn in on themselves, as though in parody of their own self-sufficiency? Self, Sign, and Symbol wrestles with these postformalist questions from a variety of discrete but related points of view. David Gordon takes up Freud's often neglected concern with philology and the capacity of language to retain traces of universal human history, finding that Feud preserves a respect for analogical integrity of disciplines, whereas Lacan looks for the common denominator of all human sciences. Joseph Margolis also challenges the current state of literary theory with a revisionist critique of semiotics and deconstruction. Assiduously avoiding any reference to contemporary theoretical debate, L. M. Grow examines what Foucault might have called Coleridge's archaeology of the human sciences, his attempt to provide a philosophical basis for science. Concentrating on The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Grow shows that for Coleridge form evolves organically from within by processes that are both material and mental. John Franzosa applies the methodology of Erik Erikson's psychohistory to a rhetorical interpretation of Hawthorne's historical sketch, "Endicott and the Red Cross." In order to show "how Hawthrone's writing attempts to occupy the space between arbitrary signs and luminous symbols." Despite Hawthorne's ironic employment of symbolic structure in his tale, his "organicism" is as strong as Coleridge's/ In significant contrast to this point of view, Ross Posnock finds in Henry James's The Wings of the Dove a rewriting of Browning's In a Balcony, which reveals both writers' interest in the atricality. James's comments on the necessity of roles, manners, and conventions anticipate Lacan's conception of symbolic order, the substitution of an alien, impersonal social system that defers direct communication. Just as Browning lies beneath the surface of James's novel, so Nietzsche is an informing presence in Eliot's The Waste Land and in much of his criticism, especially Michael Beehler argues, the criticism that explores the place of meaning in poetry and music. William Carlos Williams, on the other hand, found in painting rather than in music his sense of the essence of the creative process. William Marling shows that Williams's visual thinking was significantly influenced by his friendship with the painter Charles Sheeler and that their work and friendship mutually influenced each other. Hwa Yol Jung shows that for Roland Barthes the entire culture of Japan becomes an "empire of signs." Man, for Barthes, is a system of signs, and semiology becomes the means of knowing what can be known. A further step toward the objectification of the self by the world of signs (or the subjectification of the observable world by language) is taken in Serge Gavronsky's study of Francis Ponge's praise of George Braque's pictorial world.

Contributors: David J. Gordon, Joseph Margolis, L. M. Grow, John Franzosa, Ross Posnock, Michael Beehler, William Marling, Hwa Yol Jung, and Serge Gavronsky.

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