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This review is taken from PN Review 34, Volume 10 Number 2, November - December 1983.

TEXTS AND TRUTH Michael Hamburger, The Truth of Poetry (Carcanet/Methuen) £9.95/£4.95pb
André Brink, Mapmakers: Writing in a State of Siege (Faber) £3.95

Doubt truth to be a liar: this is the maxim of modern criticism. Literary texts refer only to themselves or to each other: there is no truth behind or outside them to which they give access. Truth is a logocentric fallacy, part of a false metaphysics of presence; the will to truth masks the will to power, and its function is repressive: he who claims to speak the truth annuls other voices. Words and things are not fused in God-given communion, nor forced to stay together like chained prisoners: the signifier is sliding, fixed to one concept only temporarily, with an upholstery button (Lacan's image) which the critic can undo. Truth then dissolves into the endless, plural play of the signifier, and this-some tell us-is politically liberating: no need to fight in the streets. The critic's greatest fear is that he may inadvertently cast himself as Malvolio, reduced to cross-gartered and yellow-stockinged absurdity by taking the written for the real: safer to assume that all scripts are forgeries. Including one's own. But this leads to a paradox: the critic turns Cretan liar: if all texts are liars, and his text says so, it tells the truth, but necessarily, since it is itself a text, lies. A reductio ad absurdum indeed.

In this context, the reissue (with an added postscript) of Michael Hamburger's The Truth of Poetry, first published in 1969, is timely. It is, as its author says, an 'anti-specialist' book which 'ranges widely and freely'. Starting ...


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