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The Anatomy of Philosophical Style: Literary Philosophy and the Philosophy of Literature.

What are the relations, if any, between philosophy and literary style? Lang asserts "that the 'literariness' of philosophical writing is not accidental or ornamental but unavoidable--imbedded in that discourse and so also in its substantive questions and proposed solutions" (p. 3). Lang attempts to clarify and support his thesis in discussions of philosophy as literature (Part 1) and philosophy of literature (Part 2).

Part 1, "Philosophical Discourse and Literary Form," suggests that philosophy is a form of writing occurring in a particular setting, to which the various types of literary genera are applicable. Lang attacks the "Neutralist" model in which "the form or structure of philosophical discourse is denied any intrinsic connection to its substance as philosophy; the relation is viewed as at most ornamental, at its least as accidental and irrelevant, even as a hindrance or occasion of philosophical obfuscation" (p.12). Furthermore, such a view assumes a "context-free or neutral medium of philosophical discourse as an ideal" (p. 14).

This model allows neither the reader to interpret the text nor the writer to speak from within the text placed in a particular historical period. Rather, there is only the reader discovering the "neutral" language in the text--a language often hidden under "the several historically distinct languages in which [the] authors respectively wrote" (p. 13). Lang develops his own view more clearly in chapter 2, "The Plots and Acts of Philosophical Genre," and applies his position, in chapter 3, to an understanding of Descartes.

Not only is the Neutralist model ineffective in helping us understand philosophical writing--Lang argues in chapter 6, "Rorty Scrivener"--but the model also leads to its own collapse. Concluding Part 1 with a chapter entitled "Nostalgia for the Future, Waiting for the Past: Postmodernism in Philosophy," Lang presents a critical analysis of postmodernism, culminating in the assertion that philosophy begins not in suspicion but in wonder (p. 152), and that this wonder is a function of the context of the here-and-now of philosophizing.

Part 2, "Literary Form and Non-Literary Fact," sets forth Lang's philosophy of literature in five chapters. Lang begins with "Hamlet's Grandmother(s)." Did Hamlet have a grandmother? Lang amplifies the significance of this question in terms of the essential importance of the background in which a literary piece is placed and the restrictions that background puts on writer and reader. The Neutralist model, however, derides the importance of background. Lang argues that such an attitude is ill-founded. For example, if there is nothing but the text, then questions of referential truth and existence vanish. One only has to think of Derrida. Thus Part 2 clarifies the discussion of the content and style of a literary work, necessarily set within a context, in terms of the dimensions of truth and ontological commitment.

Reading Lang's book is difficult for several reasons. First, there is the demand that the reader be familiar with both philosophical literature and literary criticism. Second, Lang's sentence structure often becomes overly complicated (see, for example, p. 46). Third, there are moments when one wonders just how a topic is related to the overall development of the book. Even so, the rewards of reading Lang can be worth the struggle, for he not only reminds us of, but gives reasons to support, the view that what we say is limited by how we say it, that how we say something is as revealing as what we say, and that philosophizing cannot be done within a neutralist vacuum.-- Frank R. Harrison III, University of Georgia.
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Author:Harrison, Frank R., III
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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