Review: Robert Chodat’s Worldy Acts and Sentient Things

The new issue of Modernism/modernity includes a review — written by Michael LeMahieu (Clemson University) — of Robert Chodat’s Worldly Acts and Sentient Things: The Persistence of Agency from Stein to DeLillo (Cornell University Press, 2008). We thought some of you would be interested in it, as well as in Prof. Chodat’s book. To access the review online, please click here.

Here is how the review begins:

Robert Chodat’s erudite book revitalizes the study of philosophy and literature by recalling critical attention to intentionality, a concept that encompasses the “agency” of Chodat’s subtitle and that extends to semantic considerations. For too long, treatments of intentionality have been limited by now tired discussions of the “death of the author.” Chodat turns to an alternate intellectual tradition, Anglo-American philosophy of language, which has been systematically denigrated in postmodern theory, much to the impoverishment of that theory and also to the detriment of “accounts of modern and contemporary literary texts” (14). Chodat is lucidly conversant with the philosophy of Wittgenstein, Quine, and Wilfrid Sellars—names not typically associated with studies of Stein, Bellow, Ellison, and DeLillo, the four authors to whose work he devotes chapters. Putting these philosophers and writers in dialogue allows Chodat to offer complex, suggestive discussions of the relationship between intentions and actions, causal determinations and affective states, individual dispositions and cultural systems. Chodat incisively notes the frequency with which writers attribute intentional properties to non-human entities. He convincingly argues that, despite a century’s worth of critique—from modernist literature, poststructuralist theory, and cognitive science—intentionality persists in multiple forms: sometimes attenuated, other times robust, but always pertinent to the study of human agents and cultural artifacts.

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