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Dreaming by the Book

6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691070766
ISBN-10: 0691070768
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Best known for her 1985 study of torture and physical pain, The Body in Pain, and for her much-publicized contention, first expressed in the New York Review of Books, that electromagnetic interference caused the crash of TWA Flight 800, Harvard English professor Scarry turns her critical lights on the question of how we transform literature into compelling mental imagery. Given that imagination is, by definition, less vivid than actual perception, she asks, why should a poem by Wordsworth, say, or a novel by Charlotte Bront?, bring the material world to life so palpably? Although Scarry bases her argument largely on close literary readings, her approach often recalls that of such Enlightenment philosophers as Descartes and Hume as she attempts to solve the riddle of how the mind works. Scarry is an original, interdisciplinary thinker. She writes like someone enraptured by both the natural worldAespecially flowersAand by language. Unfortunately, Scarry takes for granted that her reader is as obsessive a gardener as she. Is it really universally the case that "people seem to have long languorous conversations describing to each other the flower they most love that morning?" And is this observation a useful basis for a universal theory of the mind? In the long sections of the book devoted to the habits of a certain sparrow in Scarry's garden, or to charting every reference to vegetation in the works of Homer, Flaubert and Wordsworth, Scarry appears lost in her own lush imaginative world. (Oct.). FYI: In September, Princeton Univ. will publish Scarry's On Beauty and Being Just ($15.95 134p ISBN 0-691-04875-4), a pair of lectures intended to rescue the idea of beauty from academic neglect.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Scarry (English, Harvard Univ.), the author of the powerful and important The Body in Pain, has long been interested in ideas about creativity, imagination, and justice. In her groundbreaking earlier work, those themes were tied to the human experiences of pain and embodiment in strikingly original ways. In these two new works, she continues her explorations, using her formidable analytic talents to understand the function of the imagination in reading literature and to investigate the relationship between aesthetics and ethics, especially in contemporary academic discourse. In Dreaming by the Book, Scarry wonders how the best writing enables us to produce images and scenes in our minds that carry something of the force of reality. She deftly unfolds an answer by identifying and explicating several general principles and five formal practices by which authors invisibly command us to manipulate the objects of our imagination. While not everyone will be convinced by all of her conclusions, her analyses are always original and illuminating. The book is valuable not only for its insights but also for the pleasure of simply following Scarry through her explorations. Part 1 of the shorter On Beauty and Being Just is similarly engaging. Here, Scarry examines the experience of apprehending or misapprehending beauty in art, literature, or the world around us. But in the second half of the book, which builds to a claim about the relationship between beauty and justice, she casts her argument against an ill-defined set of "opponents of beauty" who are so generalized and obscure as to be straw men. Also, because of the reflective nature of her text (some of which was apparently presented in public lectures), she offers no citations or specific references to the individuals or philosophies she means to critique. The result is tiresome, misleading, and unfortunate, since the ideas she is exploring are important and provocative ones.AJulia Burch, MIT Media Lab, Cambridge, MA
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (May 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691070768
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691070766
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #112,586 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Michael M. Turkel on November 19, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
At the outset, I must say how shocked I am to be the second person reviewing this book. Considering how influential this book has been on my own way of reading, not to mention my mode of living, I am sorry to feel so alone in loving it.

Elaine Scarry's "Dreaming by the Book" is an expansion of an earlier essay she published in Representations, "On Vivacity." The thrust of both is to discover what it is about novels, and, to a lesser extant other forms of writing and artistic representation, that so far surpasses our independent minds in their ability to present us with imagined images.

Though Scarry does ground her analysis on a good amount of empirical research, usually from cognitive psychology, many of her claims stand more on their ability to persuade than their scientific backing. That is not to say Scarry presents us with a work of analytic philosophy. On the contrary, Scarry's book itself reads like a novel. Her ability to turn Aristotle's antiquated physics into vibrant poetry awakens within the reader a desire to similarly animate Scarry's words an grant them voice in the real world - all to frequently I found myself reading parts aloud to others.

Scarry is, certainly, a lyrical writer who begs to be read aloud. But she returns the favor to those she scrutinizes. Locke, Rousseau and even Kant sound like poets when they are revoiced by Scarry.

Perhaps some might be put off by Scarry's overwhelming style, some by her seemingly unconvincing, though abundant, evidence - there isn't, after all, any rigid logic here. Yet the most important claims that Scarry makes seem to require of us very little - attention and appreciation. I, for one, would gladly give anything Scarry wrote both on virtue of this work alone.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book has changed how I read books. Her revelations about technique cannot be undone once learned. At the same time I was reading Bruno Schultz who plays the instruments of description wonderfully.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Duran G. Grey on April 28, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I had to read this book for a literature class at my local college. Very interesting read. It certainly expands your perspective on things, however it's not something I would say has a lot of clarity to it. There are sections of the book that make nearly no sense to me or my professor, but the ones that do are worth the read.
I wouldn't purchase the book. If you can find a library copy, that would probably be a better option. Still, an interesting read nonetheless.
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