Die onderstaande resensie deur prof. Leon de Kock het in Beeld, Die Burger en Volksblad verskyn. Die outeur van Pharos Glossary of Literary Terms, Owen Hendry, het repliek gelewer op De Kock se resensie wat volg hieronder.
Boek oor literêre woorde vol ellipse
Leon de Kock
Die meriete van ’n terminologiewoordeboek is tweeledig: Eerstens moet die boek helder verklarings en verduidelikings verskaf in verstaanbare, duidelike taal oor dissipline-spesifieke terme en tweedens moet die keuse van terme in voeling wees met die huidige stand (of toestand) van die betrokke dissipline.
Die letterkundige dissipline het oor die afgelope 20 of 30 jaar in ’n groot mate verskuif. Eens op ’n tyd het dit die studie van literêre tekste behels, maar deesdae is dit al hoe meer die studie van die sosiale “teks” deur diskoers- en kulturele studie. ’n Mens kan dus maklik die pot mis sit by die maak van so ’n handleiding.
Dit is die geval met Owen Hendry se Pharos Glossary of Literary Terms. Hendry gee duidelike en sinvolle beskrywings van lekker outydse literêre terme, met mooi voorbeelde (“catachresis, the misapplication of words in various ways... to create a vivid image”, word geboekstaaf deur die mooi Shakesperiaanse voorbeeld, “there’s daggers in men’s smiles”), maar die samesteller se keuse van terme lyk of dit in die 1980’s of vroeër gedoen is.
So byvoorbeeld kry ’n mens inskrywings vir “aphorism” en “apophasis” (“to state by not stating”), maar niks oor “aporia” nie. Die handleiding het voorts inskrywings oor “didactic”, “dirge” en “dissonance”, maar niks oor “differánce” nie. Dis asof Derrida en die dekonstruksie- beweging nooit gebeur het nie. En Derrida is lankal dood!
Die handleiding bevat baie terme wat uit die klassieke retoriek kom, maar omtrent geen terme wat deesdae die botoon voer nie: “diskoers” en “poststrukturalisme” byvoorbeeld, of “Afropolitanism”, “imaginary” of “semiotics”; nie eens “postmodernisme”, of selfs “modernity” en “modernism” kry ’n enkele woord nie.
Die groot post-1968-revolusie, waarin literêre teks omgedolwe is en vervang is met “sosiale teks”, skyn volgens hierdie handleiding nooit te gebeur het nie. – Leon de Kock is professor in Engels aan die Universiteit Stellenbosch.
Owen Hendry se reaksie:
The writer of the review evidently adheres to a different theory of literary commentary, one with which I am familiar, but one which does not enjoy universal approval or credibility. He is expressing an opinion (with which I disagree). The following thoughts occur to me:
- Not all of us who teach and write about literature believe that everything that happened before 1980 is valueless. 'Huidige stand (of toestand)' does not preclude theories, philosophies and approaches that were in vogue 'before 1980'.
- Saussure's theory of semiotics, on which Derrida's notions of deconstruction are based, depend heavily on the philosophical foundation that recognizes 'only differences' in language; here is the central tenet of Saussure's thesis: Language has neither ideas nor sounds that existed before the linguistic system, but only conceptual and phonic differences that have issued from the system. The idea or phonic substance that a sign contains is of less importance than the other signs that surround it. A linguistic system is a series of differences of sound combined with a series of differences of ideas. I'm sure it's all true, but I don't see it as being of any earthly use to students of literature. Not all teachers of literature have to see the subject as a branch of philosophy; and in reality very few teachers of literature do. Those who use literature study as a means of developing the skills of philosophical thought are welcome to their approach; but they are not entitled to the opinion that their approach is the only one.
- My approach (as reflected in Pharos Glossary) is that literature is a legitimate study in its own right, and that it actually is possible to discern intended meaning in a text. The term 'differance' (as used by Derrida) suggests, maybe correctly, that it is never possible to come to an absolute conclusion about the complete meaning of a word, because that meaning is influenced by all the words that we use in order to understand the original word, and they in turn by all the words we used to understand them. It's an absorbing theory, but (1) it's only a theory, (2) it's a very controversial theory, and (3) what earthly use is it to young students trying to come to grips with poetry, drama and fiction texts? When we read DH Lawrence's 'Snake' it is far more important to try to discern and understand how the poet felt about having thrown a log at a non-poisonous snake than it is to agree that in philosophical terms 'innocent' (as opposed to 'dangerous') is a word with a great complexity of meaning. My approach recognises literature as a source of pleasure in its own right, not as a mere offshoot of semiotics. My book fits into the classification 'education'; not philosophy’; and yes, the two definitely can be separated.
- Jacques Derrida's theory of deconstructionism (in Of Grammatology, 1967) is neither the only one (cf. the Yale School - Miller, de Man, Hartman, et al.) nor universally accepted. Professor de Kock is evidently a Derrida deconstructionist - I'm not, and I'm not alone. USA philosopher Richard McKay Rorty (in 1989) accused Derrida of deliberately using words that defy definition (such as 'differance'), and equally purposefully using normally-definable words in such ways and contexts as to make comprehension impossible. Surely it is the job of teachers to elucidate, rather than to obfuscate? Derrida (died 2004) was an influential but extremely controversial thinker and writer, whose political, philosophical and critical opinions are now declining in credibility at a rapid rate.
- This book is not just for university students. The kind of 'omissions' De Kock refers to (deconstructionist criticism, Derrida, etc.) are not of the slightest interest to the general public.
- Whether you adopt a structuralist, deconstructionist or any other literary-philosophical approach to literary criticism, it does not alter the fact that Sepamla, Milton, Douglas Livingstone, Wilfred Owen, Don Mattera, WB Yeats, Mbuyiseni Mtshali and all the rest of them did really use metaphors, imagery, symbolism and rhythm; that the Renaissance really did happen; that there is a genre known as 'war poetry'; and that there are things called myths and folk tales (a very important element of the Department of Education's 2013 Home Language curriculum); and that students need to understand these terms whether they apply their interpretation of them within a general deconstructionist context or in any other context.
In a book such as Glossary it is always possible to identify things that have been 'left out'. The need to include them is a matter of opinion. Professor de Kock specifically mentions 'aporia': one of my reference sources includes the following comment on the subject:
Many contemporary sources simply ignore the use of the term in its rhetorical context …
… and consign it to the period before post-structuralism. A review of William Harmon's A Handbook to Literature ((Longman, NJ, 2011), in which this opinion is expressed, describes Harmon's book as the strongest of its kind on the market today. Its approachable yet scholarly format makes it useful [my italic and bold] to every student of the English language, from freshman English majors through graduate. No decision about what to include in or omit from Glossary was taken lightly or arbitrarily. Glossary written to be of real practical use to students (and their teachers) preparing for exams, and I'm sure University of Stellenbosch English undergrads who consult it will find it more than useful as they immerse themselves in their literature curricula.