What is clearer to me, however, is that we have projected the ironies and insecurities and indeterminacies of Postmodernism back onto Romanticism; we have reinvented the Romantics into our own image (which, incidentally, is the other side of the “anxiety of influence”–I mean absorption, assimilation).

Certain topics or problems or figures, however, do run from Romanticism, through Modernism, to Postmodernism, mutating all the while. For instance, Romantic Imagination becomes Modernist Consciousness becomes Postmodernist Language–from Imagination to Language, as master tropes. And the Romantic Self becomes the Modernist Ego becomes the Postmodernist empty Subject, itself a Discourse. But these are largely French conceits: try to tell the Self or the Ego or the Subject or your child, for that matter, that its imperious needs are a form of absence, dissemination, or deferral. […] I have come to distrust abstractions, especially bloodied abstractions (to misquote Wallace Stevens); that is, abstractions that demand human blood to maintain them for a higher end. No!

[…] “Cultural residue” is fine, but I am impressed by the infinite differences within a class, a race, a gender, a family even. We are “constructed” to an indefinite degree, but we also construct back. Chance and biology, self-creation and social influences, all play a part. Strict “constructionists,” who tend to be determinists, can accuse others and exonerate themselves in the same cry. Obviously, this has great appeal, therapeutic and theological appeal.

[…] Indulge me in a Gedankenexperiment: suppose, if you will, that we lived in a culture where any literary-critical act, spoken or written, were taboo–the equivalent to, say, publicly discussing in detail one’s sexual preferences or experiences. What would such a culture be like? Would a kind of underground criticism emerge? Would the culture be diminished by the absence of public voices of criticism?

HASSAN: A Gedankenexperiment deserves another. We would get what I call Angelic Criticism, angelic reading of texts: total identification with texts, in silence. Or, if you wish, [Pierre] Menardian Criticism: rewriting the text in identical words. It would be better, wouldn’t it, than the class that begins every “discussion” with, “Now, what’s wrong with this book?” ”

Frank L. Cioffi interviews Ihab Hassan


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