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This review is taken from PN Review 18, Volume 7 Number 4, March - April 1981.

RETROACTIVE CONVERSIONS Michael Riffaterre: Semiotics of Poetry. (Methuen 1980) £4.50

The name of Riffaterre has already become, in North America at least, invested with the distinctive aura that seems to be an unavoidable concomitant of intellectual speculation conducted with creative originality in the increasingly influential - but for most 'common readers' still too rarefied - discipline of semiotics. Those who have already decided for themselves that this branch of enquiry provides a more stimulating framework within which to discuss whatever seems to offer itself to us as 'a text' will certainly be familiar with the essays Riffaterre has contributed over the last decade to such periodicals as 'Poétique, Diacritics and New Literary History, and may also have ventured to explore the Essais de Stylistique structurale published by Flamarion in 1971. But the English publication in a popular and well-known format of a book first published in 1978 by the Indiana University Press is the first serious attempt to make Riffaterre a figure of comparable eminence on this side of the Atlantic. It comes as no surprise to find the book appearing under the imprint of the publishing house which has been almost unique in taking the bold step of attempting to disseminate semiotic procedures through the medium of a series ('New accents') of lucid and inexpensive introductory paperbacks. And whatever reservations one may have about the theory and practice of semiotics, it is clear that we should be grateful to Methuen for making more accessible a thinker who merits our attention and respect and for whom one can sometimes ...


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