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Angus Fletcher is one of our finest theorists of the arts, the heir to I. A. Richards, Erich Auerbach, Northrop Frye. This, his grandest book since the groundbreaking Allegory of 1964, aims to open another field of study: how thought—the act, the experience of thinking—is represented in literature.
Recognizing that the field of formal philosophy is only one demonstration of the uses of thought, Fletcher looks for the ways other languages (and their framing forms) serve the purpose of certain thinking activities. What kinds of thinking accompany the writing of history? How does the gnomic sentence manage to represent some point of belief? The fresh insights Fletcher achieves at every turn suggest an anatomy of poetic and fictional strategies for representing thought—the hazards, the complications, the sufferings, the romance of thought. Fletcher’s resources are large, and his step is sure. The reader samples his piercing vision of Milton’s Satan, the original Thinker, leaving the pain of thinking as his legacy for mankind; Marvell’s mysteriously haunting “green thought in a green shade”; Old Testament and Herodotus, Vico and Coleridge; Crane, Calvino, Stevens. Fletcher ranges over the heights of literature, poetry, music, and film, never losing sight of his central line of inquiry. He includes comments on the essential role of unclear, vague, and even irrational thinking to suggest that ideas often come alive as thoughts only in a process of considerable distress. In the end he gives us literature—not the content of thought, but its form, its shape, the fugitive colors taken on by the mind as represented in art.