Sami Ludwig. Pragmatist Realism. The Cognitive Paradigm in American Realist Texts. (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2002).
This interesting study emerges out of the author's engagement with issues of realism and representation. Preoccupied with the epistemological concern regarding the conjunction of experience and representation, Ludwig draws on a number of representative voices of American literary realism.
His main goal is to investigate the associations of what he calls "the cognitive paradigm", which is "a cybernetic cognitive-constructivist worldview", (5) with American pragmatism, in order to articulate a new approach to realism and a new understanding of the concept of text. His readings of Mark Twain's "Learning the River", Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady, "The Real Thing" and The Turn of the Screw, Charles Waddell Chesnutt's The House Behind the Cedars and The Marrow of Tradition.
William Dean Howell's several novels are reconstellated with a meticulous explication of the theories of the American pragmatists Charles Sanders Peirce and William James. All these readings operate like instances not only of how Ludwig's "cognitive paradigm" can be applied but of how questions of representation and reality are conceptualized in these texts in rather provocative ways that could constitute a new methodology within the realm of contemporary literary theory and a new exit from what the author feels to be a sclerotic poststructuralist understanding of experience and representation.
This new reading or methodology permeates the sections of the book in some cases more consistently than in others. One such example of inconsistency that does not move beyond the recognition of the possibility of a new reading on the basis of the "cognitive paradigm" is Ludwig's reading of the Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady.
Ludwig's discovery of symptoms of Henry James' Christian empathy and, thus, of James' correlation with a fundamentally cognitive nature does not lead to a profound reading of James' attempt to articulate a new ontology that capitalism and materialism were beginning to constitute in the nineteenth century. In other words, Ludwig does not lucidly illustrate the relationship between Henry James' subtle cognitive ideology and his evident critique of the new exchange unit, money, which regulates the development of character and relations in the novel.
His reading, however, of Howell's work within the cognitive context indeed throws a different kind of light on Howell's early conceptualization of an "interactional model" in the representation of reality through the tradition of the romance novel. Generally, there is a lack of consistency between the theoretical readings and the literary analyses, with the exception of his reading of Howell's work; while the former are powerful and persuasive, the latter often lag behind the theory.
Ludwig, however, succeeds in meeting one of his most primary introductory promises that proffers that his study will not simply pronounce new reading of traditional realist voices and American pragmatist philosophy but will primarily contribute to an envisioning of contemporary literary theory through his articulations of the correlation between animism and realism. As he says, "this interaction implies agency and cognitive construction that go beyond mimesis in a simple, positivist sense" (213). This indicates that the "text" is conceptualized as a living interaction between sign and meaning, as an organic unity that functions very much like Peirce's "interpretant", that is, as a third entity.
The text can then be encountered as a sphere of multiple contacts between reality as it is represented in the text and reality as it eludes the text thus pointing to the experience of two simultaneous interpretations: that of the text by the interpreter and that of reality by the text.
As opposed to the vicious hermeneutic circle that structuralist and poststructuralist methodogies fall back to, Ludwig's "cognitive paradigm" proposes to "explore ideas in a real context", namely, to "define them pragmatically and return the issue of ideology to the experiential realm out of which ideas emerge" (215). Ludwig names this methodological gesture "radical animism" to supplement cognitive concepts such as "radical empiricism" and "radical constructivism" and to indicate the epistemological possibilities of this theory that can respond to the political, ethnic and identity concerns of multicultural theorists and generally of contemporary theorists engaged in seeking exits from Western logocentrism.
This promising proposition remains to be illustrated in the future works of either Ludwig or those who will be inspired by his theoretical claims and the literary analyses that these claims frame. His proposition together with Ludwig's reading of Peirce and William James revisited in the context of the recent rejuvenation of American Pragmatism are the two strongest assets of this valuable study.
Dr. Assimina Karavanta
University of Athens
School of Philosophy
Department of English Studies