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Theory Now and Then. By J. Hillis Miller. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1991. xv + 405 pp. $50.50. Tropes, Parables, Performatives: Essays on Twentieth-Century Literaturee. By J. Hillis Miller. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1991. xii + 266 pp. $50.50. Victorian Subjects. By J. Hillis Miller. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1991.xii + 330 pp.$50.50
Three new titles by J. Hillis Miller in a single publishing season? Even with his track record, it would seem improbable. On closer inspection--and, as always with Miller, they deserve it--these anthologies arrive as the assembled interchapters of his prodigious career as critic, pedagogue, polemicist, and sometime theorist. The essays in them thus take their places on a widening shelf that has become almost a subfield of critical study in itself: Miller, J. Hillis (Joseph Hillis)--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 (1971)--once he found his stride, we counted on a book every two or three years--until the long wait for Fiction and Repetition (1982), followed (on schedule again, and then some) by The Linguistic Moment 1985), The Ethics of Reading 1987), Hawthorne and History (1989), and Versions of Pygmalion 1990). Stitching together these major statements in one of the exemplary careers of our time in literary studies, bridging their gaps, airing their agendas in different venues, now paving their way, now covering their tracks-and indeed answering the question of what happened during
the decade-long hiatus in Miller's book publishing--are the sixty-some essays from the late fifties through the late eighties that are retrieved and convened here. Even devoted readers of Miller may well not have known how much they had missed in between his books, or how little he had.
At just those conceptual pressure points where the book titles alone might have been taken to sketch the trajectory of Miller's thought, the miscellaneous essays were appearing to reprise and propel it. The "world" of a writer's making, as it tends since the Enlightenment to bear witness to the "disappearance of God," turns every writer into one of the "poets of reality" in the twofold genitive sense, registering and composing that reality. This double construction of the real obtains as well for the "form of Victorian fiction," whose spatial and temporal relation to the received world is measured by the "distance and desire," the otherness and will to access, that language cannot help but replay even while portraying it. From phenomenology and the criticism of consciousness to the threshold of deconstruction, from Poulet and the Geneva school to an energizing brush with Derrida, and then over the brink with de Man--such was the venture and evolution of Miller's thought into the eighties. His new deconstructionist bearings then led on to the recognition of the constitutive bond between fiction and repetition," between fabrication itself and the weave of its returns, marked by the word's generative duplications of itself rather than of the world. This is a process, once foregrounded in the "linguistic moment," that anything properly called the "ethics of reading," before and apart from any sociopolitical program, must confront. Among other results, the "history" with which one links any writer (Hawthorne, for instance) becomes in large part a philological as well as an empirical consideration, whose figural materializations confess every textual event as a version of Pygmalion" in its personification of lifeless matter, a prosopopoeia by any other name.
So it is that the books pursue a loosely but persistently developing argument to which the intervening (in both senses) essays lend inflection and, at other times, institutionally combative punch. The archive
is now powerfully complete, along with its picture of the critic's ongoing purpose and disposition. In Miller's often-borrowed distinction between "Socratic, theoretical, or canny critics, on the one hand [the structuralists and their commentators down through Cullerl, and Appolonian/Dionysian, tragic, or uncanny critics, on the other [the line from Nietzsche through Bloom, Hartman, Derrida, and de Man]" (Theory, 121), Miller himself emerges as a cool, deliberative intelligence drawn to the dark side, a canny reader fertile without …