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The Fictional Theories of J. Hillis Miller: Humanism, Phenomenology, and Deconstruction in The Form of Victorian Fiction and Fiction and Repetition

  • Daniel R. Schwarz

Abstract

With the publication of Fiction and Repetition, J. Hillis Miller has confirmed his place in the first ranks of American critics. His importance is not merely that he proposed the most important sustained argument for a way of reading fiction by one of the American post-structuralists, but that he entered into a serious dialogue with past criticism of fiction. Cumulatively, J. Hillis Miller’s six critical books — Charles Dickens: The World of His Novels (1958), The Disappearance of God (1963), Poets of Reality (1965), The Form of Victorian Fiction (1968), Thomas Hardy: Distance and Desire (1970), and Fiction and Repetition (1982) — constitute one of the major critical achievements of the last two decades. These are primarily works of literary criticism, but they are also substantial methodological and theoretical statements. In my final chapter, I have chosen to focus on two of Hillis Miller’s books, The Form of Victorian Fiction and Fiction and Repetition, because they are less concerned with specific authors and texts and more with theoretical and methodological questions about fiction. Despite Miller’s denial that the latter book proposes a theory, Fiction and Repetition is Miller’s version of both Van Ghent’s The English Novel: Form and Function and Brook’s and Warren’s Understanding Fiction. It contains the major premises of post-structuralist thinking about fiction and it places that thinking in the context of, and tries to integrate it with, prior criticism.

Keywords

Literary Criticism Literary History Organic Unity Literary Text Prior Criticism 
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NOTES

  1. 1.
    Frank Lentricchia, After the New Criticism (The University of Chicago Press, 1980) p. 66.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Quoted in J. Hillis Miller, ‘The Geneva School’, in Modern French Criticism: from Proust and Valéry to Structuralism, ed. John F. Simon (University of Chicago Press, 1972) p. 292.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    See Conrad’s 2 Nov. 1895 letter to Edward Noble in Georges Jean Aubry, Joseph Conrad: Life and Letters, 2 vols (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page and Company, 1927) LL. I. 184.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Barbara Johnson, ‘Nothing Fails like Success’, Deconstructive Criticism: Directions: SCE Reports, 8 (Fall 1980) pp. 9–10.Google Scholar
  5. Jonathan Culler, On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism after Structuralism (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1982), writes: Since deconstruction treats any position, theme, origin, or end as a construction and analyzes the discursive forces that produce it, deconstructive writings will try to put in question anything that might seem a positive conclusion and will try to make their own stopping points distinctively divided, paradoxical, arbitrary, or indeterminate. This is to say that these stopping points are not the payoff, though they may be emphasized by a summary exposition, whose logic leads one to reconstruct a reading in view of its end. (pp. 259–260)Google Scholar
  6. 15.
    Miller, ‘Deconstructing the Deconstructors’, Diacritics 5 (Summer 1975) p. 31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 17.
    Lentricchia, p. 204; he quotes from Michel Foucault, ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’ in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1977) p. 154.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Daniel R. Schwarz 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel R. Schwarz
    • 1
  1. 1.Cornell UniversityUSA

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