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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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... always trying to mix them. When critics like me try to ‘translate’ ‘rebarbative concepts from German 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 ...

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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... militants are Malcolm Evans, Alan Brown, Alaric Jacob, Bill Alexander, Robert Stradling, Beatrix Campbell, Deirdre Beddoe, Stephen Sedley, Lynette Hunter, Andy Croft, Stuart Hall, Antony Easthope and ChristopherNorris. 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 ...
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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... or other, the response: ‘This is some frightened mental dinosaur of the Old Guard, droning on against Deconstruction; these people really can’t adjust, can they?’ In fact, they are the words of ChristopherNorris, 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 ...

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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... one; thought is what we demand of him, not flighty approximations to fiction. To recapture Derrida for philosophy is the aim, happily, of both Rodolphe Gasché’s The Tain of the Mirror and ChristopherNorris’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 ...

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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... can do more than persuade, which can, some day at least, lead us to the truth. These are heady charges. Yet, though the lines of battle have been starkly drawn, the engagements are seldom direct. ChristopherNorris 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 ...

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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... totally out of touch with the best critic of his time, has decided to appropriate Complex Words, a work hitherto much less influential than the very early (and prodigious) Seven Types of Ambiguity. ChristopherNorris 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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...
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 ...

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 ...

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. At the limit (as in many of the essays ...
16 March 1989
Wartime Journalism, 1939-1943 
by Paul de Man and Werner Hamacher, edited by Neil Hertz and Thomas Keenan.
Nebraska, 399 pp., £28, October 1988, 9780803216846
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Critical Writings 1953-1978 
by Paul de Man, edited by Lindsay Waters.
Minnesota, 228 pp., $39.50, April 1989, 0 8166 1695 7
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Paul de Man: Deconstruction and the Critique of Aesthetic Ideology 
by Christopher Norris.
Routledge, 218 pp., £25, October 1988, 0 415 90079 4
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Reading de Man Reading 
edited by Lindsay Waters and Wlad Godzich.
Minnesota, 312 pp., $39.50, April 1989, 0 8166 1660 4
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... accused and reinstated by due course of law should have caused such a furor. He admires Péguy, a Dreyfusard, for quarrelling, at the cost of his job, with other liberal-socialist Dreyfusards. ChristopherNorris, in a page devoted to this curious essay, remarks that ‘any mention of the Dreyfus affair must of course raise the question of anti-semitism,’ but fails to add that de Man’s mention of ...

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 ...

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