Of roughly the same vintage as he, though possessing entirely different theoretical impulses, I have been reading and learning from Jim Phelan's critical work for well over thirty years. In book after book, including the one currently under review, he has been successfully advancing what he might term “a comprehensive rhetorical poetics,” along with the admission, stated with characteristic candor here, that “this goal is not attainable in a single book” (63). Across his several books, however, beginning with Worlds from Words: A Theory of Language in Fiction (1981; U of Chicago P) and continuing through to Somebody Telling Somebody Else, he has evolved a remarkably capacious, yet coherent vision of the ways in which the inextricably linked acts of telling and listening, writing and reading, generate ethical agency. Books are not just texts, for Phelan, a collection of signs to decipher or ignore depending upon the ingenuity, will,...
PATRICK O'DONNELL is professor emeritus of twentieth- and twenty-first-century British and American literature at Michigan State University. His most recent book is A Temporary Future: The Fiction of David Mitchell (2016). A book on Henry James and contemporary cinema, Knowing It When You See It, is forthcoming from SUNY Press,, and he is currently coediting the Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Contemporary American Fiction, 1980–2020.
Patrick O'Donnell; Telling Readings. Novel 1 May 2020; 53 (1): 128–131. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-8139429
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