Amit Marcus. Self-Deception in Literature and Philosophy

Article excerpt

Amit Marcus. Self-Deception in Literature and Philosophy. Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 2007. 232 pp.

Amit Marcus' first book, based on his 2006 Ph.D. dissertation, can be approached from two perspectives: that of its method, including recta-theoretical assumptions and procedures, and that of its substance, that is, the general theoretical and the work- specific claims it makes about the representation of self-deception in works of narrative fiction and the implications of such representation for our understanding of the way actual minds work. The author defines himself as primarily a literary scholar (16), and the literary, narratological aspect is accordingly central to his study. His point of departure is the narratological category of unreliable narration/narrator. While in principle characters who are not narrators can also be, and sometimes are, unreliable, Marcus is right in claiming that character unreliability is less of a challenge to reader and scholar alike, among others because the invalid cognitive or evaluative slant of such a character can be "corrected" so to speak by other character(s), by a personalized narrator, and, most authoritatively, by an impersonal global narrating voice. The author provides (Chapter 4) an excellent survey of work done to date on unreliable narration and the main issues emerging from it, thereby staking the general framework for his study. The next step consists of positing a sub-category of self-deceiving narration/ narrators. As self-deception is a mental phenomenon, primarily cognitive but also emotive and evaluative at times, manifested in the thought patterns, discourses and modes of behavior of actual and fictional individuals alike, it is to the narratologist's advantage to study the discussion of this phenomenon in current philosophy of mind and then employ it (critically!) as background theory for his own subsequent work on this subject. And this is what the first three chapters of the book do in a clear and insightful manner. While Marcus does not say so explicitly, his specific cross-disciplinary project is clearly part and parcel of the much wider recent cognitive turn in narrative studies and provides another important piece of the puzzle.

Many of the distinctions and definitions formulated in the philosophical discussion of self-deception are next employed (Chapters 5-10) in the theoretization of self-deception as a narratorial phenomenon and serve as a useful way of enriching and deepening the purely narratological notion of unreliability. But the literary analyses also reveal shortcomings and blind spots in the philosophical discussion, and these need to be addressed and overcome or supplemented in the course of the narratological project. The resultant, more nuanced picture of self-deception, its forms, mechanisms and causes/motives painted by Marcus on the basis of his analyses of modern works of fiction (Dickens Great Expectations; Frisch Homo Faber; Ishiguro The Remains of the Day; Nabokov Lolita; Camus La chute; Robbe-Grillet Jalousie; all discussed on the basis of the original language texts) is then fed back into the initial philosophical discussion and serves to modify it in some key respects (Conclusion). We thus end up with a virtuous circle or multi-stage two- way intellectual traffic or transfer constituting a valuable original contribution to both disciplines. But some clarification needs to be added at this point. Marcus' study is indeed interdisciplinary as he claims, but the two disciplines brought together in it are not philosophy and literature as he claims (1) but rather philosophy and narrative theory. Literature may or may not be a particular kind of discourse, and its products may indeed provide insights for any discipline concerned with human affairs, but it certainly is not a discipline in the scholarly sense. The resultant inter-discursive picture involves accordingly three terms and is asymmetrical. …