Double Vision: Moral Philosophy and Shakespearean Drama.
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007. xvi + 234 pp. index. append. illus. bibl. $35. ISBN: 978-0-691-12563-3.
Those lamenting that interdisciplinary scholarship has become predominantly historical might welcome the appearance of a new study of Shakespeare written by a philosopher. This is, of course, not a new marriage of disciplines: philosophers have long been dedicated students of literature, and especially of Shakespeare. The dramatist has attracted more attention from philosophers than other writers in part because his exemplary achievement seems to put to the test a problem that has perennially haunted philosophy: how can what we read and experience from this poet not be considered knowledge? Zamir's Double Vision endeavors to distinguish itself from such philosophical critics as Martha Nussbaum and Stanley Cavell by focusing on the question of how literature can convey moral knowledge. The problem is as old as Plato, and this modern recapitulation sometimes sounds like a watered-down version of the original. "Powerful and deep conveying of false beliefs is a possibility that complicates matters," he argues. But here, pace Plato, we are assured that "this danger does not alter the positive contribution such depth makes to the epistemic status of justified beliefs" (13). There are also the
epistemic weaknesses endemic to the field of literary criticism to be considered: what rules keep us from indulging subjective fantasies about what we read? "Interpreters," he contends, "can surely misdescribe their experiences, and this complicates matters." To confront this worrisome possibility, one might hope for more philosophical assurance--if not rigor--than this: "that interpreters can be wrong about these experiences does not prevent the possibility of them being right about them" (18). This articulation of a method of philosophical criticism that begins the book seemed more original and important in its promise of a reconstruction of rhetorical theory. Zamir's attention to rhetoric, which deserved more space, derived from a sense that "what went wrong in the modern account of rationality" involved "its rejection of rhetoric" (17). This history, as well as the relevant history of rhetoric in Shakespeare's own time, might have been more usefully traced.
The second part of the book provides readings of some of the most pored over passages in the history of literature. The chapter on Richard III examines the problem of ugliness and its relation to Richard's motives. Turning to another villainous self-crowner, the next chapter, on Macbeth, focuses on the philosophical problem of nihilism that underlies the text and its chief character. The following chapter on Romeo and Juliet turns to the subject of love, a topic almost incapable of representation in positivistic philosophy. This field of inquiry continues in the next chapter on Antony and Cleopatra, and in a chapter on Othello that investigates the problem of "being too deeply loved" (151). Hamlet, whose inability to act has attracted philosophers since before Nietzsche, is seen here as "opening up to a non-agent-based sense of life that is not essentially related to grief" (179). The final chapter on King Lear studies the problem of parental attachment. In each of these chapters Zamir reflects on the necessary role literature plays in the working out of moral problems that remain partially inaccessible to modern philosophical debate.
Many noble ambitions crowd the small confines of this book, and its very scope often seems to prove its greatest liability. Readers will find themselves frustrated by intangibly vague formulations such as the following sentence, which unfortunately sums up a large portion of argument: "The theoretical overlap that remains is intended to emphasize the shared core of the readings and to promote the metaphilosophical argument of the book as a whole regarding intellectual attunement and the meaning of understanding" (xiv). When critics read that "Within literary criticism things are less rosy. Foucault, Marx, Heidegger, and Derrida still supply most of its conceptual coordinates" (44), they will consider the possibility of hiring some public relations representatives. While the book hopes to create a bridge between disciplines, the frequent use of technical language will alienate and confuse many literary critics, such as the bemusing oxymoronic observation that "'literary argumentation' is not merely legitimate nonvalid reasoning," but it can "help us bridge (or ignore) the gap between justification and the nonnecessary conclusion we are expected to draw" (11). Literary scholars may find themselves pleased by the idea that they were expected to draw a nonnecessary conclusion through nonvalid reasoning, but just what this means to a nonspecialist remains regrettably undefined.
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2008|
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