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Seductive Reasoning

Seductive Reasoning: Pluralism as the Problematic of Contemporary Literary Theory OPEN ACCESS

Ellen Rooney
Copyright Date: 1989
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 272
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    Seductive Reasoning
    Book Description:

    Seductive Reasoning takes a provocative look at contemporary Anglo-American literary theory, calling into question the critical consensus on pluralism's nature and its status in literary studies. Drawing on the insights of Marxist and feminist critical theory and on the works of Althusser, Derrida, and Foucault, Rooney reads the pluralist's invitation to join in a "dialogue" as a seductive gesture. Critics who respond find that they must seek to persuade all of their potential readers. Rooney examines pluralism as a form of logic in the work of E. D. Hirsch, as a form of ethics for Wayne Booth, as a rhetoric of persuasion in the books of Stanley Fish. For Paul de Man, Rooney argues, pluralism was a rhetoric of tropes just as it was, for Fredric Jameson, a form of politics.

    eISBN: 978-1-5017-0700-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

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  1. INTRODUCTION (pp. 1-16)

    The subject of this book is pluralist discourse in contemporary Anglo-American literary theory. My argument challenges both the common sense definition of pluralism as an affable form of methodological eclecticism and the consensus that literary pluralists are a relatively small and easily identifiable group of critics, centered at the University of Chicago and positioned as the heirs to R. S. Crane and Richard McKeon. I will argue instead that a hitherto unarticulated pluralism dominates American literary theory, penetrating even those discourses that seem antithetical to it. Indeed, at present, pluralism seems endowed with an infinite capacity to recuperate the potentially...

  2. The colloquial meaning of the term “pluralist” shadows all our theories of pluralism. Paradoxically, those very critical discourses that set themselves the task of explicating the pluralist project in literary studies have most successfully eluded recognition of this fact. The resulting elision has the quality of an eloquent absence, a necessary silence, which enables pluralism to persist and develop even while thwarting efforts to break with its problematic. To attend to this silence is to begin to trace the limits of pluralism, to mark the colloquial as figuring that which literary critical pluralism cannot contain.¹

    In the American idiom, pluralism...

  3. Within the problematic of general persuasion, difference is never theorized as a matter of irreducible dispersions or discontinuities; the “metaphors of life” Foucault alludes to are taken literally, and the category of the human (reader) quietly obscures the “murderous” difference of the other(s). So long as pluralist hegemony is assured, critics work confidently within the problematic of general persuasion and rarely address persuasion as such. Instead, various strategies are employed to recast the traditional opposition between rhetoric and logic, each yielding a more or less summary identification of merely rhetorical persuasiveness with mechanical niceties, formalities that can then be quickly...

  4. Pluralists have been forced to define the limits of pluralism. As distasteful and intellectually compromising as this enterprise is, the menacing growth of those discourses Booth defines as what “pluralism is not-skepticism, relativism, solipsism, impressionism, subjectivism, Derridaesqueglasisme” (B 407), leaves them with no alternative. In “‘Preserving the Exemplar’: or, How Not to Dig Our Own Graves,” Wayne Booth confesses his reluctance. He claims to find the very phrase “the limits of pluralism” oxymoronic. But the “true pluralist” presses on.

    The problematic of general persuasion appears in Booth’s work both as a “theoretical ideology,” in Althusser’s phrase, and as a...

  5. Stanley Fish’s IsThere a Text in This Class? takes as its subject the anxiety and resistance characteristic of Anglo-American pluralism as it confronts an intruder variously named deconstruction, relativism, and post-structuralism. This anxiety is quintessentially expressed by the problem of the text; the phiralist’ s tenacious pursuit of a determinate text that “‘always remains the same from one moment to the next’”(F vii) is its most prominent symptom. By tracing the practical and theoretical process whereby he “stopped worrying and learned to love interpretation,” Fish hopes to calm the “fears” that he believes provoke Abrams and Booth into periodic...

  6. If, as I have been arguing, the problematic of general persuasion dominates American literary studies as a whole, we can expect to discover it at work even in the discourses of theorists—like Paul de Man—who position themselves at a considerable distance from pluralism and self-described pluralists. In de Man’s text we confront a theoretical discourse that aligns itself more dramatically than Fish’s does with the discourses of deconstruction, in part by refusing to follow Fish’s polemical path. The relationship between pluralism and de Man’s work is more oblique and surprising than that of the critics we have considered...

  7. The “baffling figure” who both grounds and troubles de Man’s rhetoric of general persuasion reappears in a most un likely place—in Fredric Jameson’sPolitical Unconscious. As in de Man’s text, the scene is one of resistance, specifically of the “reluctance” of some readers to “acknowledge the obvious.” But in Jameson’s text, the situation is somewhat ambiguous: his judgment of his reluctant reader is peculiarly tentative, neither wholly dismissive nor genuinely forgiving. This contradiction is symptomatic of Jameson’s unique historical and theoretical predicament, the dilemma of a “Marxist pluralism”¹ in the U. S. academy. Jameson struggles to "unearth" the political...

  8. EPILOGUE (pp. 241-252)

    The identifying mark of a symptomatic reading is that it works to disclose an unacknowledged problematic, a structure that is precisely not the essence of a thought. Insofar as a problematic is constituted in part by the absence of problems, concepts, and questions, this structure cannot be uncovered by an empirical, generalized reading but only by means of a symptomatic analysis. This practice of reading rejects the notion that the text itself can tell us how it should be read. On the contrary, as Macherey argues, “we must go beyond the work and explain it, must say what it does...

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This book is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International.
Funding is provided by National Endowment for the Humanities