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Modern critical theory is commonly thought of as a collection of diverse methods, schools, systems, and approaches. There is, however, a significant pattern in the diversity. This pattern is generated by the conflict between the widespread effort of twentieth-century theorists to make criticism scientific and the internal resistance to that effort presented by the hermeneutic impulse. The scientific tradition is characterized and unified by a set of common theoretical principles and by a common sequence of transformations that each school within it undergoes. The result of these transformations is that every proposed scientific model for criticism changes into an interpretive method and the project of scientific criticism is subverted.
Foucault's work has been investigated from within the Western intellectual tradition. My study approaches it from outside that tradition, from the perspective of Oriental thought. Oriental concepts were appropriated by the Western counterculture of the sixties and were espoused by associates of Tel quel when Foucault began to develop his radically subversive critique of Western discourse formation. Eastern models appear to have shaped his own discourse to such an extent that they function as a concealed subtext in his work. He criticizes the West for its anthropocentrism and logocentrism, its antagonistic dialectics, and its confidence in an unlimited advance of systematic knowledge. Foucault's enterprise is grounded in Oriental, chiefly Buddhist, systems that emphasize a progressive decentering of the individual through praxis rather than theory, a logic of coexisting opposites, a paradoxical language, and a knowledge unattainable through logocentric rationality.
Baudelaire's poetry dramatizes the self-effacing quality of dominant discourse so well that until recently critics have failed to engage his interest in ideology. In the prose poem “Les yeux des pauvres,” the traces of that self-effacement allow us to read the ideological implications of what seem to be the text's purely aesthetic and ethical dimensions. By staging encounters with social and sexual difference, “Les yeux” challenges the principle of reflexivity underlying its announced aesthetic of the correspondences. In questioning the logic of the same that governs the mystified speaker's figuration and psychology, the text asks whether and how an Other can escape the confines of the official egalitarian ideology of post-1848 France, which tends to cast alterity in its own image.
The court spectacle plays of Calderón de la Barca, when viewed within their historical, physical, and dramatic context, reveal a polysemous structure of meaning that both supports and criticizes the ruling monarch. The first of these, El mayor encanto amor, reproves Philip iv's pursuit of sensual pleasures in time of war and his surrender of power to his prime minister; the last, Hado y divisa de Leonido y Marfisa, attempts to forge a credibly regal image of the weak Charles ii. These plays dramatize the belief that the polyphonic richness of theatrical representation can not only serve and guide the king but also generate his authority, that the proper constitution of the central figure in the theater of power may depend on the power of theater.
Recipes, whether in cookbooks or in other texts, exemplify embedded and gendered discourse. In the 1951 edition of Irma Rombauer's The Joy of Cooking, Marion Becker's editorial altering of the proportions between “bed”—the narrative that frames the recipes—and recipe erodes the bed and erodes as well the usefulness of the recipes. More cognizant than Becker's text of the importance of this bed, E. F. Benson's comic novel Mapp and Lucia both embeds the recipe for those masculine—whether male or female—readers unaware of the recipe's social significance and establishes a connection between recipe with-holding and narrative. Nora Ephron's Heartburn uses the recipe and its social meanings to play with notions of reproducibility both literary and culinary and thereby elaborates a connection, implied in the early versions of Joy, between recipe sharing and narrative production and consumption, a connection that “Recipes for Reading” itself attempts to reproduce.