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This review is taken from PN Review 81, Volume 18 Number 1, September - October 1991.

THEORIES, STORIES AND ETHICS Christine Brooke-Rose, Stories, Theories and Things (Cambridge) £30
J. Hillis Miller, Theory Now and Then (Harvester Wheatsheaf) £30

The careers of Christine Brooke-Rose and of J. Hillis Miller invite one of those 'compare and contrast' exercises beloved of literary examiners. Both were born in the third decade of the 20th century (Brooke-Rose in 1923, Miller in 1928) and both had a traditional kind of higher education - Brooke-Rose at Oxford, Miller at Oberlin College in Ohio, where, he recalls, he read Homer, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Pope, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Arnold, Newman, Mill, T.H. Huxley and T.S. Eliot, 'not a woman among them'. Both acknowledge the importance of the New Criticism: Brooke-Rose describes herself as 'brought up on the New Criticism' and its close reading of poetry, and Miller recalls the time, in the mid-1940s, when the New Criticism was indeed new and mounting its challenge, although in another recent book, Tropes, Parables, Performatives (1991), he has attributed his own close reading commitment not to the New Criticism but to 'an initial and persistent fascination with local strangenesses in literary language'. Brooke-Rose might say the same. Both are polyglot, fluent in French and German, and both showed an early interest in postwar Continental developments in literary and critical practice - Brooke-Rose in the nouveau roman of Robbe-Grillet and Sarraute, Miller in the 'criticism of consciousness' of Georges Poulet (then in fact Miller's colleague in the States). They were thus well-placed to understand and assimilate the extraordinary explosions of structuralism, post-structuralism and deconstruction that have transformed literary studies in the past two decades. They are both very good technical critics, ...


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