is remarkably incisive.nSo the reader follows Barrett’s thesisnas one follows an adventure. The worknof Locke or Berkeley takes on life innthe space of a few pages. Viewednthrough Barrett’s lens, Leibnitz is ansurprisingly sympathehc philosopher,nwhile Hume seems wholly inadequate.nKant—on whom Barrett rightlynconcentrates — looms as the singlenprodigious genius to dominate the discussionnof consciousness; yet evennKant’s system is fundamentally flawed.nAs he approaches our own time, Barrettnfinds philosophy diverging evernfurther from sanity. Hegel is impossiblynvague, Sartre is superficial, Wittgensteinnmuddled on the question ofnconsciousness. Finally, with thendeconstruchonists and the patrons ofn”artifacial intelligence,” modern philosophynclearly reveals the death wishnwhicn, Barrett persuasively argues, itnhas carried within itself since Descartes.nAlthough he speaks of “consciousness,”n”mind,” and “self” interchangeably,nBarrett reveals somethingnin his subtitle: “Death of the Soul.”nOn several occasions the author contrastsnthe disembodied consciousnessnof the modern philosophers with traditionalnChristian notions about self andnidentity. So although the message ofnthe book is negative—a demonstrationnthat modern philosophy has reachednthe point of exhaustion—Barrett suggestsnthat a philosophical solution maynbe found in the restoration of Christiannsensibilities, in particular the rediscoverynof the soul. Better yet, henleaves his reader with the tantalizingnhope that he himself will soon turn hisnattention to that ambitious project.nPhilip F. Lawler is editor of Crisisnmagazine.nThe Future ofnPrivate Languagenby William RicenSelected Poems by John Ashbery,nNew York: Viking; $22.95.nJohn Ashbery is a familiar name tonreaders of contemporary American poetrynand art criticism. He is, one mightnsay, the poetry establishment and thenart establishment woven into one. Henhas won all the honors, including anlucrative MacArthur Fellowshipn(which came to him, predictably, afternit might have been needed). With thisnbackground, Ashbery will find Viking’snnew collection of his poemsngreeted rhapsodically in such places asnThe American Poetry Review and, perhaps,nattacked by impolite youths innmore independent sources.nTo an educated public-at-large,nwhich doesn’t follow new poetry, Ashbery’snassembled work offers an instructivenlook at a hugely successfulncareer in an era of innovation andnindividualism, and it suggests the futurendirection of American poetry.nIn 1956 Ashbery’s first book. SomenTrees, established the delicacy of tonenand elegance of vocabulary which still,nin general, mark the most satisfyingnefiForts in his nine later volumes ofnverse. At his best, Ashbery is so sure ofnhis sound and his rhythms that a puristnmay even admire the freer poems forntheir reliance on the old verities ofnstyle. In this passage from “The NewnRealism,” for example, the immediatensense of which suffers from a lack ofnpunctuation, he brings a welcomenfreshness to a eulogy. The deceasednwoman, a daffy gardener perfectly suitednto the genre that might someday bencalled the Cape Cod Poem, lives on innimages and metaphors drawn from hernseaside environs:n. . . The zinniasnHad never looked better—red,nyellow, and bluenThey were, and thenforget-me-nots and dahliasnAt least sixty different varietiesnAs the shade went upnAnd the ambulance camencrashing through the dustnOf the new day, the moon andnthe sun and the stars.nAnd the iceberg slowly sanknIn the volcano and the sea rannfar awaynYellow over the hot sand, greennas the green treesnBut as with so much fashionable subjectivenwriting, if there is somethingnattractive or even excellent in it, thentrick is to identify what. This can benhard, especially when the poet alsonexcelled in writing art criticism, annnphylum of prose rarely praised fornreserve or clarity. Maybe Ashbery hadnto edit a great deal of bad writing andnsimply got overexposed, like a chemicalnworker handling hazardous compounds.nIn the 1960’s, when he headednArtNews, a new critical style,nunprecedented in its obscurantism,ndominated the cultural vanguard innNew York City. It arose from—ornproduced — dogma as well, whichnheld that self-reflective style, antiformalninnovation, and insistence onnmultiple perspectives were the hallmarksnof good art and even of a worthynpersonal life.nBy 1970, most of Ashbery’s poetrynbecomes not only very cool and distant,nlike the art of the period, but alsonnearly incomprehensible. He indulgesna love for suggestive words, unreferrednpronouns, and abstract vocabularyn—“so much news,” “imperative ofnsubtiety,” “hungers,” “the climate ofnthe indecent moment,” “breachednsense of being.” Unfortunately, suchnphrases conform to the orthodox mannernof contemporary verse, and Ashberynslips them to us with the authoritynof a master. It could, in fact, be arguednthat it was Ashbery who established thenprecious “private vocabulary” as poeticnorthodoxy. His subjectivism eventuallynled him, in Three Poems and, mostnrecentiy, in A Wave, to write wholentracts of vague, pretentious almostprose—smart,nself-consciously naughtynmanifestos that speak of “uncompletenimportunes,” “theories ofnaction,” and “the advantages of sinkingnin oneself” As in “A Wave,”nAshbery gives way to a windy nihilism:n… a great victorynThat tirelessly sweeps overnmankind again and again atnthe endnOf each era, presuming youncan locate it, for the greaterngoodnOf history, though you are notnthe first person to confusenIts solicitation with somethingnlike scorn, but the slownpolishingnOf an infinitely tiny cage bignenough to hold all thendispiritedness.nContempt, and incorrectnconclusions based on falsenpremises that. . . .nDECEMBER 1986 / 3in