Proper Words in Proper Places: Dialectical Explication and English Literature

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Robert James Merrett, Proper Words in Proper Places: Dialectical Explication and English Literature, Altona (Manitoba), FriesenPress, 2024.

Proper Words in Proper Places: Dialectical Explication and English Literary History explores how literary history intertwines cultural, political, philosophical, religious, and commercial influences with literary production to create new ways of reading, meaning, and understanding. The text provides a delightful and surprising mix of canonical and non-canonical texts that merge many genres and literary allusions to highlight the complexities of literary historiography. Simultaneously, Proper Words in Proper Places digests the challenges of literary history and prepares readers to formulate for themselves the multiplicity of its nature and function.

Drawing from texts published between 1670 and 1920, Robert J. Merrett demonstrates how the mixing and involvement of literary forms with such influences as painting, music, theatre, natural history, and notions of civility and spirituality erode simplistic ideas about the nature of narrative. His keen analysis of the traditional and experimental rhetoric of the texts serves to illustrate the double vision of the humanities and shows how the liberal arts enlighten contemporary moral issues. Additionally, the chapters probe, through their diverse models of reading, how mixed literary genres oblige us to create textual memories as our readings unfold. Merrett’s linguistic and contextual analyses heighten cognitive, psychological, and aesthetic processes, thereby demonstrating that poems, plays, novels, and other literary forms mix lexical registers and interdisciplinary discourses to counter literal-mindedness.

Proper Words in Proper Places is a unique work, unsettling notions of periodicity, promoting interdisciplinarity, and countering educational indifference toward literary and aesthetic cultures. Its explanations of the diversity of literary historiography could easily inform new design models for survey courses and help prepare those about to enter teaching professions, who are expected to be familiar with the philosophical and contextual problems that motivate literary texts. It promises stimulating and thought-provoking study and invites readers to develop a sense of how literature operates as a system based on philosophical contraries and logical paradoxes.

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