Reclaiming Neglected RemnantsnThe Horizon of Literature; Editednby Paul Hemadl; University of NebraskanPress; Lincoln, NE.nGerald L. Bruns: Inventions: Writing,nTextuality, and Understanding innLiterary History; Yale UniversitynPress; New Haven, CT.nRobert Scholes: Semiotics and Interpretation;nYale University Press;nNew Haven, CT.nby Gary S. VasilashnX he title of a lecture presented bynEdgar Wind in I960 as part of the Reithnseries and a passage therein speak clearlynto a state in contemporary literary criticism.nThe title: “The Fear of Knowledge.”nThe passage: “Masterpieces are not sonsecure in their immortality as Croce imagined.nIf a contingency can bring themnto life, a contingency can also reducenthem to shadows: for what must benlearned can be forgotten.”* Mr. Windnasserts, correctly, that many modernnviewers of art works—^and this can benextended to readers of literature—^arenignorant of what is represented, and sonthey misperceive what they are viewing.nHe thinks that a viewer should be knowlec^eablenabout the work because “Inadvertentlynwe trivialize the works of art ofnthe past when we take them at their facenvalue.” Mr. Wind recognizes that whatnhe recommends—that viewers recapturen”a great deal of contingent knowledge”—^isn”burdensome,” but he insistsnthat it is necessary not only for the propernappreciation of art, but also for thencreation of true art, not the marginal trivialitiesnthat can be seen in major artnmuseums and found on the shelves ofnrespectable bookstores.n•Edgar Wind: Art and Anarchy; Alfred A. Knopf;nNew York; 1964,nMr. Vasilash is associate editor ofnChronicles.nThe need for contingent knowledgenis dramatically illuminated in a novelnpublished in 1959 by Walter M. MiUer,nJr., A Canticle for Leibowitz. A word ofncaution is necessary at this point. Thennovel tells of events relating to thenmonks of the fictional Albertian Order ofnLeibowitz in the southwestern part ofnthis country. The book has three mainnsections, “Fiat Homo,” “Fiat Lux,” andn”Fiat Voluntas Tua,” which tell of threendistinct time periods. The first is set sixncenturies beyond the present; the lastnsome 18 centuries hence. Because ofnthe chronology, the book is commonlyntermed “science fiction” and is thus dismissednIrom serious literary discourse.nThe monks are very ordinary people;nundoubtedly they could work as charactersnin a novel set from six to 18 centuriesnago. In terms of literary conventions,nthe book is quite orthodox; Insuspect that it is very Catholic in the religiousnsense because Catholic Digestnpublished an edition of the book in 1960nand because the author ends his acknowledgementnwith appreciation andngratitude to “Ss. Francis and Clare, andnto Mary.”nA case for the legitimacy of sciencenfiction as a literary genre is cogendynmade by Robert Scholes in an essay,n”Stillborn Literature,” that appears innThe Horizon of Literature. Scholes, asnwill be made clear anon, is not a mannwith whom I always agree; I do concurnwith him in this case. Scholes’s topic isnthe state of contemporary literature.nHe points out that should readers asknfor complexity from writers, then theynought to be prepared to expend “annextraordinary interpretive effort” innorder to understand the text. Especiallynsince Finnegans Wake—to which Joycenthought people should unstintingly devotenthemselves—certain novelists havenbeen creating novels which are increasinglyncryptic, which might explain thenrise of semiotic studies in the past fewnyears: cryptanalysts are best suited tonnncrack codes. Scholes says that he suspectsn”that the amount of satisfectionnhuman beings are capable of derivingnfrom language is . .. limited. There is ansaturation point, beyond which no formalncomplexity can produce additionalnsatisfaction.” Should writers pushnfurther—^”beyond the point where thencoefScient of effort expended by thenreader becomes greater than the coefficientnof pleasure”—then it could resultnin “literary death.” Those whom Scholesnterms “competent readers” would undoubtedlynbe disinclined to study ciphers,nas literature, I think, is supposednto provide some pleasure. Although thengeneral state of literature is not one thatncan be characterized as being a collectionnof anagrams and other word games,nthere is an additional danger. Scholesnmaintains that “Orthodox fiction is losingnits audience. It has become at once tooneasy to do it competently and too difficultnto do it well.” The following wordsnare key: “It [orthodox fiction] is respectednbut not admired, praised but notncherished.” What seems to exist, for thenmost part, are experimental works thatnaspire to incomprehensibility and thengeneral run of things, products of authorsnwho are more concerned with the bottomnline and popular success than withnmaking a contribution to that corpus ofnworks which is known as genuine art.nBut if there are stUl some authors whonare striving to create true literature,nthere are not many. Some of them writenscience fiction. There are too few fornthese to be dismissed out of hand. Ofncourse, there is as much refiise—^pseudosophisticatednor highly salable—innthat genre as in any other, perhaps more,nbut still, some science fiction, as Scholesnpoints out, can be characterized as havingn”considerable beauty and intellectualnrichness.”nSo back to A Canticle for Leibowitz.nWalter M. Miller, Jr. posits a nuclearnwar occurring in this half of the 20thniii£17nJune 1983n