Review of Habitations of the Word

Citation metadata

Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Book review; Critical essay
Length: 918 words

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

Back in 1971, in his first collection of essays, Fiction and the Figures of Life, the philosopher-novelist William H. Gass laid down the law that “the esthetic aim of any fiction is the creation of a verbal world, or a significant part of such world, alive through every order of its Being.” He continued: “The artist's task is therefore twofold. He must show or exhibit his world, and to do this he must actually make something, not merely describe something that might be made.”

What I think he really meant is that the writer's task is one-fold—to make his world, he must make words. But whatever he meant, Professor Gass, who teaches at Washington University in St. Louis, has continued ever since to explore the ontology of words, first in a tour de force of an essay, “On Being Blue,” then in a second collection, The World Within the Word. Now, in the dozen essays that constitute his latest collection, Habitations of the Word, he has developed still further his preoccupation with the primacy of language.

He has developed it philosophically. In the collection's longest and most difficult essay, “Representation and the War for Reality,” he labors to the conclusion that “however we choose to think about it, the fact remains that a word is closer to its sense than to its reference, even if we can write or...

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420003196