Just recently we had George Steiner's meditation on Language and Silence telling us all about ""the retreat from the word"" among contemporary artists. Now Professor Hassan takes up the theme, though without Steiner's global expansiveness. The professor restricts himself to studies of Henry Miller and Samuel Beckett. His essays on the latter are quite good, probably because Beckett, the grammarian of Nothingness, abounds in all sorts of syntactical paradoxes and odes to oblivion, and his verbal ""devices"" are imaginative enough to withstand Hassan's plethora of solemn phrases: ""Beckett has gone to the root of nihilism....He touches the deepest aspirations of the age by touching on its darkest dread: the void."" Hassan grapples manfully with Miller, too, but since Miller does not really fit the ""silence"" thesis, we get a great deal of Procrustean inventiveness: ""Miller cannot be silent; therefore he speaks endlessly, giving no specific end to his speech."" and so forth. Most of the truly pertinent exponents of ""anti-literature""--Cage, Norman Brown, Maurice Blanchot, some of the younger French novelists--are mentioned all too inconclusively in the opening and closing chapters. Basically, however, Hassan has written a thoughtful, certainly earnest, sometimes penetrating account of cultural dissolution.