The title of John Fraser's book comes from Hamlet's most famous speech. 'The name of action' is what 'enterprises of great pitch and moment' lose when 'the native hue of resolution' is 'sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought': not, on the evidence of this volume, too much of a problem for Mr Fraser himself. His immediate target is litcritbiz, perennially anxious to demonstrate that books mean something other than what they say. He tells us that his 'argumentative adolescence', and his 'apprentice years' in the Sixties, were sorely fretted by Marxists, Freudians, irony-mongers and other assorted nuisances, restlessly disturbing the plain sense of things, while real life and Mr Fraser ('human feelings and doings - falling in or out of love, fighting a war, and so on') were taking their natural strong-willed course. For his own part, he has not, 'at least since childhood', been afflicted with that 'sacred awe' which is felt in France towards 'the text', and hasn't much time either for 'talk about non-referentiality and organic unity'. His own view, expressed in what is a fair sample of the delicacy of his idiom, is that 'in distinguished literature the abstractions of ideologies were tested out in terms of the concretions of individual experience, rather than vice versa.' He doesn't like that academic 'hunger ... for metaphysics without ethics' which 'separates intellection from the demands of action', and believes himself to be inhabiting a 'Shakespearean world' in which people derive their 'images of future bliss or woe ... from their past experiences, including their experiences of fiction, written or spoken'.
LRB 6 February 1986 | PDF Download