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This review is taken from PN Review 42, Volume 11 Number 4, March - April 1985.

LIBERATING ENTHRALMENT A. D. Nuttall, A New Mimesis: Shakespeare and the Representation of Reality (Methuen) £12.95, £6.95 pb.

To praise a fictional text as true to life, to commend an author for mimetic achievement, has become, as A. D. Nuttall notes, a solecism in sophisticated seminars. His aim is to offer a theory of mimesis, exemplified by tales from Shakespeare, which justifies such 'naive' responses. He acknowledges the stimulating effect of structuralism and its successors upon literary studies, but sees them as new brands of formalism, and seeks to rebut five of their major implications: that the world consists of relationships, not things; that truth is made, and thus false - verum factum, verum fictum; that the human sciences should dissolve, not constitute man; that language precedes meaning; and that verisimilitude masks the laws of the text.
 
Nuttall rejects atomist objectivism, but points out that relationships are, necessarily, relationships between things: no things, no relationships. He denies that reality is a 'fluid social fiction' and contends that 'shifts in the conception of reality may be understood as involving actual error'. The shapes and conceptions that we bring to bear on the world are interrogative, not constitutive; they are tested against reality; they can meet recalcitrance; and 'language grows when certain schemes prove operable in relation to the real'. The conventional nature of language, its difference from what it denotes, is necessary to its referential function. 'You don't describe a cat with a cat'.

Literary fictions, Nuttall suggests, should be seen as offering probabilities, experiential hypotheses. 'The fiction evokes from us, as we ...


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