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This review is taken from PN Review 84, Volume 18 Number 4, March - April 1992.

SPEAK THAT I MAY SEE THEE Stephen Mulhall, On Being in the World (Routledge) £30.00

Stephen Mulhall's book is doubly important: not only does it exemplify the strengths of contemporary British philosophy in a consideration of poetry and the aesthetic, but it also challenges one of the founding assumptions of current literary theory - that we are not at home in language. On this view, language alienates us from the natural, from tradition and, most significantly, from ourselves. To think otherwise is to be the dupe of ideology. Mulhall, however, gives good reasons for thinking this to be misguided. He begins from Wittgenstein's reflections in Philosophical Investigations, Section xi, on the duck-rabbit. This is a simple line drawing whose aspect suddenly changes between a duck and a rabbit, so that we feel that the figure is altogether different after the change of aspect - as if it had altered before our very eyes. Wittgenstein calls this kind of change 'aspect-dawning', and it is characterized by the observer's felt need to describe what is seen as a new perception. We say 'Now it's a rabbit!', not simply as a report on our visual experience, but as an exclamation (such as 'It hurts!'). The form of words we employ is a spontaneous reaction to what we see, a direct expression of our visual experience, and not an inference made on the basis of a visual impression.

Mulhall argues that the experience of aspect-dawning in relation to pictures is merely an extreme manifestation of the typically human attitude towards pictures in general. We do not ...

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