Sunday, December 25, 2011

Ad for the book version of AGAINST THEORY

This is to be read with the recent post on how critics have used FLAWED TEXTS AND VERBAL ICONS after the reviewers had dismissed it.--I mean the Sunday, December 18, 2011 piece
"How Critics in Fields Other than American Literature Have Applied FLAWED TEXTS AND VERBAL ICONS."

My article in CRITICAL INQUIRY which was reprinted as a chapter in AGAINST THEORY was an attempt to show literary theorists how literary authority can be lost so that even familiar literary texts at some points may "have no meaning, only partially authorial meaning, or quite adventitious meaning unintended by the author or anyone else." I thought that was fairly clear, but in their "Reply to Our Critics" Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels declared, "Hirsch, Dowling, and Hershel Parker all agree with each other and with us that there can be no meaning without intention." Well, no, I said at some points some texts have no meaning or have quite adventitious meaning unintended by the author or anyone else," and gave specific examples. Were Knapp and Michaels so indoctrinated with the New Criticism that they simply could not read the words on the pages of my article?

No one understood FLAWED TEXTS AND VERBAL ICONS in 1984 and 1985. You see how astonished I have been in the last few years in seeing that Biblical scholars, medievalists, Shakespeare scholars and scholars of other Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, scholars of modern British fiction and others have found my arguments applicable to textual-aesthetic problems they have encountered.

It's a terrible thing to be ahead of your time but a good thing to live long enough to see people understanding perfectly well what you were saying a quarter century earlier!

P.S. Here's an example of a journal editor's making a change which blurred a distinction I was making.

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