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The Stylistics Reader: From Roman Jakobson to the Present.

Jean Jacques Weber, ed. London and New York: Arnold, 1996. vi + 312 pp. $49.95 cloth; $19.95 paper.

This reader, like all anthologies, "constructs a version of history" (7). Two key questions which suggest themselves when reviewing any version of the history of a discipline or domain of enquiry are: how representative and comprehensive is this version in terms of the selections offered? what do the articles or book excerpts gathered in the anthology tell us collectively about what has remained constant and what has changed in the discipline during the relevant time period?

As regards the first question, one notes that, despite its generic title, this is exclusively an anthology of literary stylistics in Australia, the U.K., and the U.S. (with major emphasis on the U.K.) between 1960 and 1992. It excludes furthermore empirical and experimental approaches - where the interaction of lay readers with literary texts is described and analyzed - and represents only such interaction and response on the part of professional readers or academics. But this is by no means a criticism. The field covered is rich, diverse, and complex enough as it is. The anthology opens with Roman Jakobson's classical formulation of formal, structuralist stylistics, followed by sections on functionalist, pragmatic, contextualist, and cognitive stylistics. The order of selections thus reflects the order in which these approaches have emerged. The pieces contained in each section consist mostly of theoretical claims and their applications (either central or by way of illustration) to one or more literary texts or text fragments. But since stylistics in the period covered has been anything but a settled, uniform field with a generally accepted paradigm, each of the selections also contains a metatheoretical or methodological component meant to warrant the approach adopted and display its advantages over other available ones. Some pieces are entirely metatheoretical: Derek Attridge's poignant expose of the shortcomings of Jakobson's argument, Talbot J. Taylor and Michael Toolan's succinct but penetrating formulation of the difficulties inherent in any functionalist stylistic project, Stanley Fish's all-out attack on stylistics (or at least on its formal and functionalist varieties), and Toolan's response reasserting the validity of these two approaches. The anthology is preceded by the editor's introduction which, in seven brief pages, provides an excellent panoramic view of the basic tenets of each approach and the internal logic of the shift from one to the next.

And now to the second question, and first the constants. Underlying all the approaches represented is a view of LIS (= LIterary Stylistics) as a discipline or subdiscipline engaged in the study of language in use and action as manifested in written texts, first and foremost in those recognized in the culture as literary. In such texts certain small-scale, surface elements, from phonological to logicosemantic (see below), are singled out and their features (characteristics), patterns, and mechanisms described in terms of some theoretical linguistic vocabulary. The units or elements are singled out initially on the basis of one of the following: their saliency (prominence, predominance, foregrounding) in the text in question; significant accumulation of them in the text; the fact that they represent a consistent singular choice from among all the options available in some underlying system (linguistic, textual, discursive); or the fact that they constitute a marked deviation from the norms of such an underlying system.

Up to this point, LIS is indistinct from literary linguistics in general. But everybody will agree, I believe, that metrical analysis or syntactic description per se, both respectable activities within literary linguistics, are not yet stylistic analysis. The crux of the matter comes at the next stage where such elements, having been properly described, are functionalized. They are assumed to carry some semantic load (significance, meaning, effect) in and by themselves, or to indicate, reflect, contribute to, or even constitute a formative element of the text's global macrosemantic structure (thematics, thought patterns, views of experience). They are further assumed to influence the text's overall impact, effect, and cultural status. The literary stylistician's crucial role is hence to define the semantic loads and effects of the selected textual units, correlate these units with macrosemantic ones (theme, world view, attitude), and indicate how and in what way they reflect, contribute to, or help shape (determine?) the text's large-scale semantic and thematic structures. In traditional terms, the how leads to the what, the means of expression to the content, the manner to the subject matter. Stylistic analysis is viewed by its practitioners as a pointer towards global textual interpretation, as a procedure which is, ideally at least, disciplined, explicit, and intersubjective, hence both providing guidelines to and placing constraints on the interpretative activity. In its most extreme form, stylistic analysis would claim to discover and define in an objective and scientific manner the text's overall meaning on the basis of the textual units and patterns initially singled out. Stylistic argumentation proceeds in a bottom-up manner, from micro- to macro-units, from surface phenomena to underlying global regularities. Even if the scholar as an individual first hits intuitively upon a global interpretation and only then identifies the relevant surface characteristics, his or her line of argument, meant to persuade others, invariably proceeds in the bottom-up manner. Most stylistic arguments also avoid heavy formalization and try to stay close to the kind of discourse employed in literary studies. The essential role interpretative hypotheses play in LIS defines it as meaning-oriented literary linguistics, or, conversely, as linguistically oriented literary criticism. The coupling of local linguistic description and overall interpretation is the source of LIS's most distinct contribution to literary studies, its perennial attraction, as well as its perennial methodological and theoretical difficulties.

Numerous abiding implications regarding the status of LIS as a discipline can be drawn from the foregoing. First, LIS presupposes literary linguistics, but not vice versa. Since linguistic analysis is more amenable to precise description of features and mechanisms than either the micro-macro correlation or thematic analysis, different stages or components of any LIS project will possess different degrees of rigor end intersubjectivity. Some will look more like science, others more like art. Second, LIS analyses form a continuum whose two poles are as follows: a systematic detailed description of numerous linguistic patterns in a text, with a cursory definition of the macrosemantic structure they reflect or contribute to (examples are Jakobson's analyses of poems in the 1960s and 1970s), and an overall interpretation of the text, employing sporadically linguistic characteristics in its support. Third, LIS is a nonfundamental, applied or dependent discipline, essentially a practice based on linguistic theory and on a theory of meaning-formation in texts. Since at any given moment there is more than one theory of each kind available, each with its own vocabulary and descriptive procedure, there will inevitably be several kinds of LIS analysis available at each point in time. Similarly, major changes in either linguistic theory or theory of interpretation will give rise to new kinds of stylistic analysis. In fact, all major stylistic approaches represented in the anthology arose as a result of new models in linguistics (functionalism, speech act theory, cognitive linguistics) or in interpretation theory (contextualism, critical theory). Fourth, fundamental controversies in linguistic theory and interpretation theory will have an inevitable impact on the LIS activity. Linguistic examples are the demarcation of semantics and pragmatics, and the precedence relation between strictly linguistic, conceptual, and pragmatic units. Interpretative issues include the part-whole relation in the formation of interpretations, and the key question whether any overall pattern of meaning is inherent to the text - to be read off it, so to speak - or whether all such patterns are ascribed to the text by readers, lay or professional. While the stylistician cannot be expected to tackle, let alone resolve, any of these issues in its general form, he or she must take a stand on them, at least on an ad hoc basis, in order to be able to proceed with his or her own work. The most obvious example is the need to "get off the Fish hook" (Toolan), which seems to invalidate any kind of stylistic analysis.

Another constant of the discipline involves the abiding quandary about the nature of the relation between linguistic features and large-scale, abstract structural units (Freeman 293). Here are some of the relevant issues most often described in the selections in the anthology. What criteria can be formulated for selecting some textual characteristics from among all those available in a given text as the most fruitful or conducive to a meaning-oriented linguistic description of this text? How should one next proceed to correlate in a nonintuitive, general, and intersubjective way any set of selected linguistic characteristics with any view of experience, and show that the first reflects or contributes to the formation of the other (for example, syntactic structures and type of mind at work [Roger Fowler, 200-04])? Can one formulate either a heuristics (discovery procedure) or an algorithm (decision procedure) for this purpose? If LIS is unable to provide general rules to this end, it is inevitably restricted to providing, in each case, ad hoc connections which look plausible, acceptable, or supported by good reasons, but nothing more. Its claims could elicit the response "I see," but not "You have proven your point" (132). Notice that this problem is distinct from the validation of any given global interpretation for a particular text. Even if everybody were to agree on one single interpretation as the only one valid for the text in question, the micro-macro issue will still remain. The lack of general discovery and proof procedures in LIS is paralleled by its inability to formulate general claims about the correlations between any particular textual feature and any specific macro-element or pattern, for example, rhyme and reason. The same textual feature may be considered as an indicator of or a contributing factor to different themes in different texts, depending on the total textual make-up. Conversely, the same theme can be reflected, supported, and partially constructed by different textual elements and procedures in different texts. The only universal claim one could hence make is that any micro-macro correlation is in principle of the many-many variety and depends on the total textual context. LIS is thus useful and illuminating for a better understanding of the working of individual texts, and may at most formulate some local regularities of correlation in the oeuvre of a particular author, specific movement, or period style, but this is where its generalizing potential ends.

Two, or maybe the two major changes in LIS since 1960 concern the shift in the nature of the units of textual analysis from purely linguistic to discursive or cognitive, and the introduction of contextual factors of some kind as necessary for the grounding (Toolan's term) of any linguistic-thematic nexus claimed by the scholar. As one can easily see, the first type of change was induced by new paradigms in linguistics, and the other by the stormy debates about the origins, status, and possible support for any interpretation that have been raging in literary studies, and not only there, since the late 1960s. The first kind of change saw the introduction of units from linguistic pragmatics, especially speech act theory, to the study of literary texts and the concomitant focusing on questions of implication and presupposition, conversational implicature and cooperation and the like. The articles by Mick Short, Mary Louise Pratt, and Deirdre Wilson and Dan Sperber are excellent examples. The advent of cognitive linguistics saw the introduction into LIS of units which are ultimately conceptual in nature, although lexically conveyed, such as semantic frames or domains, schemas and projections from one domain to another (mapping, blending). This opens the way for a new kind of LIS, where the initial micro-units and mechanisms are much closer in nature to the text's wider thematic and ideational concerns. One promising area is metaphor and its role as indicator, reflector, or building block of a text's overall structure of ideas. Donald C. Freeman's article on metaphor in King Lear reprinted in the anthology is exemplary in this respect.

The contextual issue is more complex. Formalist LIS of the Jakobsonian persuasion started out from the idea that the relevant textual patterns (e.g., parallelism on all levels in poetic texts) could be clearly identified, and that the text's overall meaning, effect, or function (e.g., set on the message, poetic function) were unambiguously defined and determined by them. It was further assumed that this overall meaning is inherent to the text, can best be "read off" from it by a linguistically informed reader, and is independent of any contextual factor. This extreme view came to be seen as untenable, to be replaced by a more modest view that textual characteristics suggest but do not determine themes and effects, that any claim about their correlation is merely plausible, and that the correlation is established in the first place via some extra-textual framework employed by the reader or critic. But to claim with Fish that this framework or context consists of each individual reader in his total social, cultural, and psychological complexity renders the stylistic project totally idiosyncratic and unmanageable. The crucial question arose, therefore, how to constrain, delimit, or regiment the context to make it both intersubjective and manageable in practice. One answer is provided by David Birch, who claims that well-defined intertextual knowledge and information used by the reader to formulate his interpretation of a literary work act as one such framework or grounding (206-08). Fowler suggests as context the range of established modes of discourse in the critic's culture and their encoded cultural meanings. He further insists that any assignment of significance to a text by a stylistician is a product of social construction and as such a matter of public discussion and debate (203-04). The next step would call for the formulation by the scholar of some of the constitutive conventions or codes of reading existent in our culture in this respect - for example, how to make thematic capital of formal patterns in lyrical poetry. One very plausible set of such conventions has been formulated by Jonathan Culler in Chapter 8, "Poetics of the Lyric," of his Structuralist Poetics. It is a pity it was not included in this anthology.

In conclusion, the complex, dynamic, often controversial, and multiply related field of LIS as it has evolved in the last quarter century in the English-speaking world is cogently and faithfully represented in this anthology. While it cannot resolve any of the open or contested issues in the field, the anthology gives the reader an excellent picture of where matters currently stand on each of them, and provides a stimulus for further thought and development.

Uri Margolin University of Alberta

Culler, Jonathan. Structuralist Poetics: Linguistics, Structuralism, and the Study of Literature. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1975.
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Author:Margolin, Uri
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1997
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