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This review is taken from PN Review 111, Volume 23 Number 1, September - October 1996.

INSIDE THE WHALE DONALD WESLING and TADEUSZ SLAWEK, Literary Voice: The Calling of Jonah (State University of New York Press) £46.50, £15.50 pb.

For many a modern critic, the notion of voice as presence is like the man in the rhyme who wasn't there: his non-existence seems to have been soundly established, but he won't go away. Every time the critic climbs the stairs towards the attic of absence, with its ambivalent promise of both desolation and a final, exhilarating dispersal of ego, he blocks the ascent and poses an ineluctable paradox. The issue then becomes: how to account for, or at least cope with, this nonentity whose obstructiveness appears to be in direct proportion to his insubstantialness?

Donald Wesling and Tadeusz Slawek's Literary Voice is an attempt to formulate a notion of voice which is compatible with Derrida's deconstruction of the 'myth of presence' - a deconstruction which they assume to be irrefutable, affirming that '[a]bandonment of that myth of presence was correct and long overdue'. The tone of apodictic certainty in this statement provokes questions, however: why was it 'correct' and 'overdue'? The world of Wesling and Slawek appears to be one in which there is no longer even any need to rehearse Derrida's arguments or to consider radical objections to them: a world in which it is taken for granted that the notion of 'presence' is indeed a 'myth'. But the problems of such a world are revealed when immediately after the above affirmation, they start to backtrack: 'it remains on the agenda of theory to study how and why voice as presence in the former sense ...


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