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Encounters with the Other: A Journey to the Limits of Language through Works by Rousseau, Defoe, Prevost and Graffigny.

Encounters with the Other: A Journey to the Limits of Language through Works by Rousseau, Defoe, Prevost and Graffigny. By MARTIN CALDER. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi. 2003. 312 pp. 60 [euro]. ISBN 90-420-0825-3.

Within the scope of a brief review, it is impossible to engage with all the issues raised by this ambitious and challenging book. Martin Calder opens his introduction by stating as his aim to 'bring together a number of accounts of journeys to the limits of language and of the encounters with the other that take place there' (p. 13). He also claims (p. 14) that the underlying topos of his study is language acquisition, though nothing further from a manual for aspiring language teachers could be imagined. He devotes half the book to two chapters, 'The Speciousness of Origins' and 'The Infant Other: Feral Children and Civil Children', that act as a context for a discussion of Robinson Crusoe, Prevost's Histoire d'une Grecque moderne, and Madame de Gragny's Lettres d'une Peruvienne. Rousseau, who appears in Calder's title, does not have a chapter dedicated to him, but is a ubiquitous presence in the book, his Essai sur l'origine des langues and Emile enjoying special prominence. The two initial chapters prove to be a good investment. They enable Calder to review, with a huge range of reference (to which the extensive bibliography attests), both philosophical discourse, from antiquity to the modern day, on the origin of human language and language as it originates in individuals. The section on language as it pertains to feral children (pp. 79-106) is particularly fascinating. Despite the breadth of his reading, Calder never allows the reader to forget the centrality of eighteenth-century debates to the matter at hand. His sustained discussion of Robinson Crusoe illustrates in a striking manner how Defoe deployed what Calder terms 'lingual colonialism' throughout his novel. As for the novels by Prevost and Gragny, Calder shows, through close engagement with the two texts, how the heroines, victims of both physical and discursive violence, resist conquest and absorption, and strive to achieve self-determination by fighting back and turning the linguistic tables upon their aspiring conquerors. Thus, in Prevost, 'Language becomes for The ophe a space of resistance which she occupies with his [=the Frenchman's] terms adapted to her use' (p. 220), while in Gragny 'The Lettres d'une Peruvienne transform a victim into a self-arming individual who writes her own story' (p. 254). This book has few flaws other than the occasional minor typo and a tendency to leave no stone unturned so that exemplification sometimes obscures (temporarily for the most part) the main lines of a given argument. A philosophical as well as a literary mind is at work here--Calder undoubtedly has a 'tete bien faite'--and the result is a notable contribution to scholarship.



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Author:Cardy, Michael
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 2005
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