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View all copies of this ISBN edition:. Synopsis Will be shipped from US. The concept of the phoneme was already formulated in the nineteenth century, but the reformulation of the concept by the Prague School and in particular by Roman Jakobson was crucial to the entire evolution of structuralism and, thereby, of modern literary theory itself.

What Jakobson proposed, of course, was that phonemes are not, as had been assumed, undecomposable entities. What his phonological theories analyse is neither the blossom nor the bole, neither the dancer nor the dance, but certain features which have been artificially abstracted from language.

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  • I would suggest that their appeal can only be understood if we bear in mind the extent to which our modern intellectual culture has grown directly out of a more ancient religious tradition. By presenting an animal capacity rooted in the culturally and biologically determined complexities of human nature as though it resembled an ordered mathematical grid it conforms to one of the oldest and most repressive patterns of Judaeo-Christian religion — that which, in a compulsive quest for purity, repudiates the body and its appetites together with all that might have contracted the contagion of the human.

    One of the most constant elements in our cultural compulsion towards purity has always been our anxiety that the rational purity of the soul might be defiled by contact with emotions. In the remorselessly rational world of structural anthropology this anxiety becomes acute. In his view the unconscious is not, as Freud implied, a seething mass of unclean impulses and sexual desires. His approach to myth derives directly from the kind of phonological analysis pioneered by Jakobson. In the work which results we encounter not particle physics, not particle linguistics but particle anthropology.

    Following Jakobson he maintains that myths are made up of elements which are related by a process of binary logic, opposing pairs of concepts such as culture and nature, the raw and the cooked, the fresh and the rotten, honey and ashes. These binary oppositions have nothing whatsoever to do with the ancient, value-loaded dualisms of our culture as we have traditionally understood them — the dualism of body and mind, flesh and spirit, good and evil, pure and impure.

    A theory which is adequate is one which can provide a coherent and logical framework for discourse. Although Lacan created a version of psychoanalysis which supposedly turned on a profound analysis of the structure of the signifier, one of the enduring mysteries of the twentieth century was and is likely to remain the meaning of the words which Lacan himself uttered both in his Paris seminars and in his published writings.

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    Sometimes this language sounds remarkably conscious, not to say contrived. It is not only Lacan himself who speaks in this manner, but also those students who are occasionally given the opportunity to ask questions:.

    TORT: Could you say more about the relation you posited between gesture and the moment of seeing? A threatening gesture for example?

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    It is not a blow that is inter- rupted. It is certainly something that is done in order to be arrested and suspended … It is this very special temporality, which I have defined by the term arrest and which creates its signification behind it. Was that the question you asked me?

    TORT: No, I wanted you to say more about that temporality to which you already referred once, and which presupposes, it seems to me, references that you have made elsewhere to logical time. LACAN: Look, what I noticed there was the suture, the pseudo-identification, that exists between what I called the time of terminal arrest of the gesture and what, in another dialectic that I called the dialectic of identificatory haste, I put as the first item, namely the moment of seeing … The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Penguin, , pp.

    Speaking the language of the unconscious, however, does not stop Lacan from aspiring constantly towards rigorously scientific formulations. Each aspect of the formula, including the line which separates the signifier from the signified, is invested with magical significance. Because of this he sees a special value in the illustration. With remorseless rigidity of mind Lacan proceeds to derive from this original formula a series of formulae representing everything from metaphors to the Oedipus complex.

    One formula for metaphor is as follows:. Forty years ago the theoretical vagaries of linguistics, anthropology and psychoanalysis would have had very little relevance to the practice or even the theory of literary criticism. Today, however, such matters are directly relevant, not least because modern literary theory has grown out of just the kind of intellectual developments I have tried to examine here.

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    Historically speaking there have been two essentially different and indeed opposed roles which have been played by theory in our intellectual culture. By far the most powerful role ascribed to theory, one endorsed both by philosophers from Plato to Descartes and by the Judaeo-Christian tradition itself, has been that of rising transcendentally above the embarrassing, supposedly degrading, sexual, sensual, emotionally laden facts of human existence into a purely intellectual realm. In earlier centuries one of the central purposes of the entire intellectual enterprise was always to escape upwards from this Satan-ridden and polluted earth into the divine empyrean.

    At the same time the apocalyptic ideal held out in the millennial dreams of Christianity has always consisted in a fantasy of world-purification — a dream in which the ordinary world would be cleansed of carnality and transformed into a spiritual world. For most of our intellectual history the role of theory has been determined by just such religious dreams of purity. Theory has been, above all else, a way of glimpsing, or even seeking to realise, an ideal transcendental world of order and purity.

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    There can, I believe, be no real doubt as to which tradition most modern literary theory derives from. For behind the extraordinary complexities of post-structuralism there lies the concealed rigour of structuralism itself and the secret project which is to be found at its heart — the project not of explaining the real but of rising above it in order to embrace the ideal.

    Precisely because transcendental quests for purity are no longer intellectually respectable in our intellectual culture the proponents of modern literary theory have tended to represent their intellectual enterprise both to themselves and to others as being in some way radically subversive of our central intellectual orthodoxies.

    Many have been taken in by purely rhetorical gestures towards sensual or sexual liberation, or by the faked s of structuralist jouissance. But behind the facade of liberation and subversion the intellectual project of post-Saussurean literary theory remains deeply orthodox and deeply repressive. And above all it remains committed to a theory which denies the very possibility of using language to understand either the nature of literature, or, indeed, our own nature.

    Does all this matter? I believe that it does matter.

    Purity and Defilement in Gulliver's Travels

    I believe that it matters above all because our literary tradition — the tradition of Shakespeare and Donne, Swift and Pope, Dickens and Blake, Hardy and Lawrence, Plath and Hughes, Mailer and Roth — contains an immense wealth. What is in question is not simply a literary wealth but a human wealth. For, partly because of the rule of rationalism and puritanism over our public life in the last three or four centuries, much of our emotional, and indeed our wealth, has been secreted in the relatively private imaginative world of literature. For this and for many other reasons our literature contains psychological riches and a wealth of insights into human behaviour which Freud, in his proud rationalism, did not even glimpse.

    This wealth is something that our imaginatively impoverished and straitened intellectual culture stands in acute need of.

    Purity And Defilement In Gulliver's Travels

    We should not deceive ourselves that we may dispense with the power of theory altogether. As critics we need a theoretical understanding of literature and of language not as objects in themselves — for they have never been and never will be such objects — but as aspects of human behaviour. Such an understanding would help us to mine out the emotional and imaginative riches which have been locked up in the realm of literature and to use them for their proper purpose which is to enrich our common wealth. Our tragedy is that the theories which have increasingly come to dominate literary criticism seem to have the unconscious aim of renouncing the wealth which is contained in our literature.

    The poverty of contemporary literary theory is pervasive, and appears to be strangely attractive to modern intellectuals.