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This review is taken from PN Review 109, Volume 22 Number 5, May - June 1996.


There is a way of thinking about literature that sees it as possessed of two natures. On the one hand, there is the literature of meaningful prose. This kind of writing aims to express things in the language of everyday use, and it is associated with the literature of realism, the novels of, say, Kingsley Amis, Ruth Rendell, or, from an earlier period, E.M. Forster. However, there comes a point at which the artist becomes dissatisfied with the language of everyday speech, the language of reference and intelligible meaning, and looks elsewhere. At this point, literary art and the theories that conduce to its well-being see in language itself a reality that surpasses that of the world, revealing to us an order of things that language alone can deliver. This contrast, between a literature given over to the world as we know it and literature whose concerns are essentially with language, has a long ancestry in modern thought, stemming in part from Mallarmé, in part from the Russian Formalists, and more recently from contemporary reworkings of Mallarméan and Formalist ideas by theorists and critics such as Blanchot, Barthes, Derrida and others. Christine Brooke-Rose has been associated as an academic figure with much of this work. She has written on the modernists, including Pound, as well as contributing at a highly developed level of sophistication to literary theory itself, addressing in particular the theory of metaphor. Given this background, her new book, a fictional autobiography, exhibits exactly the kind of ...

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