Metzidakis, Stamos. Difference Unbound: The Rise of Pluralism in Literature and Criticism.
In the author's note introducing the second edition of Difference Unbound: The Rise of Pluralism in Literature and Criticism, Stamos Metzidakis claims that due to several recent (re)defining events in American society, "[We] can never again pretend to live in some imagined homogeneous world." From this, it would seem that Metzidakis advocates a pluralistic worldview in which "the promotion of diversity, heterogeneity, multiculturalism and difference itself is a very good thing indeed" (Author's note). And yet, through Difference Unbound, Metzidakis hopes to encourage fellow scholars to accompany him in examining and evaluating the unquestioned and non-historicized rise of pluralism in the academy so that "a more limited view of pluralism" can be established and can illuminate "the ways in which it actually benefits or hinders people working in the literary field" (3).
A delineation is therefore set between "society at large," in which heterogeneity is an aspired-to ideal, and literary/aesthetic domains, which, as Metzidakis argues, are in danger of internal and external expiration due to an "anything and everything goes" attitude (20). Through this "polemic against pluralism" (232), the author hopes to "stir up still more debate" (Author's note) than did the first edition. However, apart from a new preface by Mary Ann Caws, an updated author's note, and a concept index, the body of Difference Unbound does not include specific retorts to the "controversy" (Author's note) the first incited. Rather than indicate a lack of subsequent research or dialogue, though, the reappearance of this relatively unchanged book suggests that Metzidakis's evaluation of pluralism is even more pertinent today than it was in 1995 as scholars are continually called to justify and defend their ideologies and practices.
As the author explains, Difference Unbound originated from a colleague's question concerning interpretative practices: '"What is wrong with one more new reading of Hamlet?" (9). Here, Metzidakis redirects inquiry to an examination of whether there should be, not whether there can be, infinite textual interpretations. Through five chapters offering a balance of theory and example, the work serves as a history of literary modernity, focusing on both artistic creation and interpretation. In the first and final chapters, Metzidakis elucidates and then "re-views" the current "'problem' of literary pluralism," situating its rise within nineteenth-century notions of originality and progress. In chapters three and four, he explores--through both epistemological and historical lenses--these concepts that have become, as he claims, obsessions within the fields of aesthetic production and criticism.
Ultimately, Difference Unbound suggests that difference itself has come to reign as the new singular (and thus un-differentiated) reading in the very field that proclaims pluralism as dogma. As Metzidakis argues, scholars and artists alike have become apt to value originality, progress, and difference as the principle indicators of success without consideration for other evaluative criteria. Therefore, in order to deemphasize the "over-idealization of these concepts" (205), he would have us recognize and vocalize the fact that we work within boundaries even if unknown to us (or unacknowledged by us), and even if they go "against" what we proclaim to believe. Above all, Metzidakis asks us, as critics, to cease placing difference above all else merely for difference's sake, and to admit that this gesture itself is essentially critical, evaluative, and judgmental.
Abbey Carrico, Virginia Military Institute
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|Publication:||Nineteenth-Century French Studies|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2014|
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