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This article is taken from PN Review 62, Volume 14 Number 6, July - August 1988.

The Limits of Analysis John Needham

There has obviously been too much theorizing going on, so that it seems merely wilful to add to it. Perhaps I can plead the excuse that the theories I have in mind - Michael Polanyi's - have not had a remotely decent run for their money. Leavis's recommendation seems to have been set aside as the sort of eccentricity that is sometimes associated with greatness going off. It is a pity, because Polanyi's ideas about structure and its analysis, generated by his striking development of gestalt theory, enable us to re-state an organic view of literature that has workable applications at every level- I mean from helping sixth-formers to say something useful about the structure of novels, up to a demonstration of the bearing that Whitehead's thinking might have upon a critique of post-structuralism.

That last remark suggests that Polanyi is useful in part because he is timely; and since timeliness is as important in literary theory as in other human endeavours, I will try to sketch something of the historical fit of Polanyi's ideas, before looking at them in more detail. Christopher Norris's stimulating contribution to PNR 48 affords a good starting point. Dr Norris argues that modern criticism has not been critical enough. He accuses the Eliot movement of engaging in ritual obeisance before the idol of the unifying powers of poetry. Taking this view of critical history, Dr Norris naturally believes that we need Derrida and company to show us that words are deeply ...


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