Gerald L. Bruns. the spell of another, to liberate the language imprisoned in a work in his recreation of that work" (p. 80). The notion of a pure language, a language uncontaminated by mere speech, may be one of modernity's great unkillable ...
This book concerns the relationship between language and poetry in Heidegger's later writings. Gerald L. Bruns illuminates these difficult and strange writings by analyzing his style and form and by reflecting on the philosopher's insights.
Thus it would not be the content or meaning of a written Torah that Jeremiah would attack; rather it would be the Deuteronomic “claim to final and exclusive authority by means of writing” . Jeremiah’s problem is political rather than theological. He knows that writing is more powerful than prophecy and that he will not be able to withstand it—and he knows that the Deuteronomists know no less. As Blenkinsopp says, “Deuteronomy produced a situation in which prophecy could not continue (...) to exist without undergoing profound transformations” —that is, without ceasing to be “free prophecy,” or prophecy unbound by any text, including its own. “It might be considered misleading or flippant to say that for [Deuteronomy], as for rabbinic orthodoxy, the only good prophet is a dead prophet. But in point of fact the Deuteronomic scribes, despite their evident debt to and respect for the prophets, contributed decisively to the eclipse of the kind of historically oriented prophecy represented by Jeremiah and the emergence in due course of quite different forms of scribal prophecy” .It is at this point that we reach a sort of outer limit of biblical criticism—a threshold that scholars, with their foundations in literary criticism, their analytical attitude toward texts, and their theological concerns, are not inclined to cross. In any case, it is no accident that the political meaning of the conflict of prophecy and canon has received its most serious attention not from a biblical scholar but from a radical historian, Ellis Rivkin. In The Shaping of Jewish History, a brilliant and tendentious book, Rivkin proposes to treat the question of canon-formation and the promulgation of canonical texts of the Scriptures, not according to literary criteria but according to power criteria. For Rivkin, the production of the Hebrew Scriptures “was not primarily the work of scribes, scholars, or editors who sought out neglected traditions about wilderness experience, but of a class struggling to gain power.”23 23. Ellis Rivkin, The Shaping of Jewish History: A Radical New Interpretation , p. 30; further references to this work will be included in the text. Gerald R. Bruns is professor of English at the University of Iowa. He is the author of Modern Poetry and the Idea of Language and Inventions: Writing, Textuality, and Understanding in Literary History . The present essay is from a work in progress, Hermeneutics, Ancient and Modern. (shrink)
Marcel Duchamp once asked whether it is possible to make something that is not a work of art. This question returns over and over in modernist culture, where there are no longer any authoritative criteria for what can be identified (or excluded) as a work of art. As William Carlos Williams says, “A poem can be made of anything,” even newspaper clippings.At this point, art turns into philosophy, all art is now conceptual art, and the manifesto becomes the distinctive genre (...) of modernism. This book takes seriously this transformation of art into philosophy, focusing upon the systematic interest that so many European philosophers take in modernism. Among the philosophers Gerald Bruns discusses are Theodor W. Adorno, Maurice Blanchot, Arthur Danto, Stanley Cavell, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Jacques Derrida, Jean-François Lyotard, Jean-Luc Nancy, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, and Emmanuel Levinas.As Bruns demonstrates, the difficulty of much modern and contemporary poetry can be summarized in the idea that a poem is made of words, not of any of the things that we use words to produce: meanings, concepts, propositions, narratives, or expressions of feeling. Many modernist poets have argued that in poetry language is no longer a form of mediation but a reality to be explored and experienced in its own right. But what sort of experience, philosophically, might this be? The problem of the materiality or hermetic character of poetic language inevitably leads to questions of how philosophy itself is to be written and what sort of communitydefines the work of art—or, for that matter, the work of philosophy.In this provocative study, Bruns answers that the culture of modernism is a kind of anarchist community, where the work of art is apt to be as much an event or experience—or, indeed, an alternative form of life—as a formal object. In modern writing, philosophy and poetry fold into one another. In this book, Bruns helps us to see how. (shrink)
This is a book about Jurgen Habermas's attempt to replace historical materialism with communicative action as a social theory that is not external to society in the manner of traditional theories but is at work within it as an agency for human freedom. However, Rockmore is not so much interested in the genealogy of Habermas's theory of communicative action as in the complicated and sometimes confusing story of Habermas's own struggle with historical materialism as a way of accounting for social (...) phenomena. The concept of historical materialism is itself very far from clear, and Habermas's own relation to it is highly unstable. Rockmore maps out the itinerary for Habermas's "reading of Marx and Marxism as a process in four stages, leading to his own theory of communicative action, consisting of the interpretation, critique, reconstruction, and rejection of historical materialism". In addition, Rockmore's book is in certain unsystematic ways a critique of Habermas's reading of Marx and Marxism; that is, it is not so much a defense of historical materialism as a criticism of the incompleteness of Habermas's efforts to get beyond it--an incompleteness that amounts, in Rockmore's view, to a backsliding into idealism, or at least into a German idealist theory of reason, including a restoration of the transcendental subject. (shrink)
Recently, a number of Anglo-American philosophers of very different sorts--pragmatists, metaphysicians, philosophers of language, philosophers of law, moral philosophers--have taken a reflective rather than merely recreational interest in literature. Does this literary turn mean that philosophy is coming to an end or merely down to earth? In this collection of essays, one of the most insightful of contemporary literary theorists investigates the intersection of literature and philosophy, analyzing the emerging preferences for practice over theory, particulars over universals, events over structures, (...) inhabitants over spectators, an ethics of responsibility over a morality of rules, and a desire for intimacy with the world instead of simply a disengaged knowledge of it. (shrink)
[Herbert F.] Tucker has shown us in a very practical way that the concept of meaning is the problem of problems, not only in hermeneutics but in literary theory and, indeed, literary study generally. It may well be that in literary study there can be no talk of meaning that is not ambiguous, that does not require us to speak in figures or by means of metaphorical improvisations. It would not necessarily follow that our talk of meaning is merely provisional (...) or without philosophical authority since we know now that considerable authority attaches to ordinary language, whence we obtain our use of the word "meaning" as well as the figurations that we use to talk our way around it. To be sure, the discipline of literary study is now rapidly filling with grave masters who take our figures to mean that meaning is literally unspeakable—only so many transferences and substitutions within a system of differences alarmingly vast . This is itself a terrific idea, or a terrific figure, although it is used mainly to expose the thoughtless way we talk about meaning as well as our offhand assumptions about the conditions that make understanding possible. Our problem in literary study is not that meaning is unspeakable—even if it were it would not be a problem—but that we rarely reflect on the subject of meaning in a disciplined way. In our time, meaning as a topic of study is the preserve of logicians. It is almost exclusively a theme of analytical philosophy, and even those not bound by this philosophy address themselves to the analytical tradition when they speak of meaning.1 It is time that we entered into this discourse on meaning; a paper as fine as Tucker's should serve as a summons.· 1. Among numerous cases, see John R. Searle, "Metaphor" and "Literal Meaning," Expression and Meaning , pp. 76-136, and "Intentionality and the Use of Language," in Meaning and Use, ed. Avishai Margalit , pp. 181-97.Gerald l. Bruns, professor of English at the University of Iowa, is the author of Modern Poetry and the Idea of Language and Inventions: Writing, Textuality, and Interpretation in Literary History. (shrink)
I am impressed by how angry Jonathan Crewe is, but I found his remarks confused and unclear and so I’m uncertain how to reply. Whatever the matter it, he wants “to forestall a sense of academic obligation on anyone’s part to work back to Cavell through Bruns” . God knows this might be a good idea, judging from what James Conant says.Conant’s criticisms are directed at the section of my paper called “The Moral of Skepticism,” which he cannot help wanting (...) to rewrite, since he has a much more intimate grasp of Cavell’s thinking than I have. I imagined myself on the outside of Cavell’s texts, trying to characterize them in a certain way, not on the inside, giving an account of their genesis. Obviously my paper is neither philosophy nor literary criticism but a crossdressing of the two that is bound to make someone like Crewe bite his teeth. I appreciate Conant’s forbearance. Gerald L. Bruns is William and Hazel White Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Notre Dame. His most recent book is Heidegger’s Estrangements: Language, Truth, and Poetry in the Later Writings. (shrink)
“The Avoidance of Love” is Cavell’s magic looking glass onto Shakespeare, where the idea of missing something, not getting what is obvious, is, on Cavell’s reading, very close to a philosophical obsession. Shakespeare here means—besides Lear—Othello, Coriolanus, Hamlet, The Winter’s Tale, and Antony and Cleopatra, and what Cavell finds in these plays is an attempt to think through what elsewhere, in the formation of the modern philosophical tradition, was getting formulated as the problem of skepticism, or not being able to (...) know that we know . It is not easy to say what this means. As if executing a skeptical decorum, Cavell’s writing does not try for transparency, nor does it always coincide with itself, and anyhow Shakespeare is not so much an object as a region of Cavell’s thinking, so everyday readers are apt to find themselves a bit at sea with him. Without claiming to match Cavell’s views point for point, I would like to give something like a para-Cavellian commentary that tries to say what his thinking, with respect to Shakespeare, seems to be getting at, and also where it leaves us.Gerald L. Bruns is William and Hazel White Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Notre Dame. His most recent book is Heidegger’s Estrangements: Language, Truth, and Poetry in the Later Writings. (shrink)
In this paper I want to say some things about the way William James talks—as, for example, in The Varieties of Religious Experience , the famous Gifford Lectures in which James attempted to rehabilitate religion as a subject fit for philosophical discourse, or as something still worth talking about.1 Some familiar background for this matter is provided by the epigraph I have just given from “What Pragmatism Means,” in which James shows himself to be a nominalist as against a metaphysical (...) realist . The nominalist position, as it applies to James, would be that words make sense to us but not for the reasons we give when we say that we designate things by them, because these things are never quite there, or at all events never quite things, in the way our language makes them out to be. It does not matter whether we are speaking of universals or particulars: words mean because of the way they hang together in sentences and contexts, and they fail to mean when they fail to fit in, not because of a failure of reference. It is not necessary to claim for our words that they are anchored in reality. The intelligibility of a word is always a hermeneutical construction, in the sense that the word depends for its meaning upon how it is taken. Whence the meaning of a word is always rhetorically contingent as well, because it is determined in varying measures by the situation in which it occurs and also, therefore, by the audience who is meant to hear it in a certain way, and who may take it in this certain way or perhaps in another way entirely, depending on the situations. We shall see how James exploits this contingency in his own way of speaking. A word can, of course, be taken as referring to some really existing entity, and in fact most words are taken in this way because this is how they works for us. Words usually end up being about something. A nominalist in this case would be just someone who believes that words do not have to refer to really existing entities in order to be taken in this realistic way, and most words are taken in this realistic way for no good philosophical reason. But what might be allowed to stand as a good philosophical reason for taking words one way rather than another is exactly what our problem is, and it is also one of the things this paper is about. Gerald L. Bruns is the author of Modern Poetry and the Idea of Language and Inventions: Writing, Textuality, and Understanding in Literary History . He is currently at work on a new book, Hermeneutics, Ancient and Modern. His most recent contribution to Critical Inquiry, “Canon and Power in the Hebrew Scriptures,” appeared in the March 1984 issue. (shrink)