Interpretation: An Essay in the Philosophy of Literary Criticism

Copyright Date: 1980
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    This book provides and defends an analysis of our concept of the meaning of a literary work. P. D. Juhl challenges a number of widely held views concerning the role of an author's intention: the distinction between the real and the implied" author; and the question of whether a work has not one correct, but many acceptable interpretations.

    Originally published in 1986.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5801-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. ix-2)
    P. D. Juhl
  4. I Introduction
    (pp. 3-15)

    A significant part of Western culture consists of literary works. They have become assimilated into that culture and have come to influence people’s beliefs and values by being understood in a certain way. If they were understood very differently, our cultural tradition itself would be likely to be or become very different from what it is. The interpretation of literary works is thus of considerable importance in shaping that cultural tradition. It seems desirable therefore to have a general characterization of what is involved in interpreting a literary work, in saying of a particular literary work that it means so-and-so....

  5. II The Theory of E. D. Hirsch
    (pp. 16-44)

    E. D. Hirsch has maintained that the meaning of a literary work is determined by the author’s intention. In the following, I should like to examine Hirsch’s thesis and the arguments he gives in support of it. I shall also consider his distinction between the meaning and the significance of a work as well as his claim that the meaning of a work is “determinate” and hence cannot change.

    Hirsch formulates his principal thesis as follows:

    Verbal meaning is whatever someone has willed to convey by a particular sequence of linguistic signs and which can be conveyed (shared) by means...

  6. III Is Evidence of the Author’s Intention Irrelevant?
    (pp. 45-65)

    When an author writes, say, a poem or a novel, he typically intends to convey or express something by it; he means something by the words he writes. We may ask, therefore, what the relation is between the meaning of a word sequence in a literary work and what the author meant by the word sequence in question; and similarly we may ask what the relation is between the meaning of a work as a whole and what the author intended to convey (what he meant) by it.

    One possible answer is this: Although the meaning of a literary work...

  7. IV The Appeal to the Text: What Are We Appealing to?
    (pp. 66-89)

    In supporting an interpretation of a literary work, we commonly appeal to facts such as the following: that a certain image or metaphor recurs throughout the text, that the hero’s actions belie his professed beliefs, that the hero does not achieve any self-recognition, that a certain character commits suicide, that such-and-such an event occurs in the final scene, that a word is qualified in a certain way, that certain words stand in a particular syntactic or semantic relation to other words (parallelism or antithesis, for example), that a particular word or phrase is in an emphatic position, that it occurs...

  8. V Context and the Rules of the Language
    (pp. 90-113)

    Perhaps the most common argument for (or against) an interpretation of an utterance or a passage from a literary work is that the interpretation is (or is not) supported by the context. I want to consider what it is about a context that allows it to disambiguate or to clarify the meaning of an utterance. I shall try to show that in adducing features of the context in support of an interpretation, we are implicitly appealing to the author’s intention. I shall then argue that the same is true when we invoke the rules of the language to exclude an...

  9. VI Aesthetic Arguments and Other Aspects of Critical Practice
    (pp. 114-152)

    In addition to the appeal to the rules of the language, there are certain other aspects of critical discourse which may appear to be obviously resistant to an account of the meaning of a work in terms of the author’s intention: that critics sometimes offer aesthetic considerations in support of an interpretation, that meanings and implications of which an author was not thinking can properly be attributed to a work, and that we sometimes reject an author’s statement of what he meant by a particular work. In this chapter I should like to show that the intentionalist thesis can adequately...

  10. VII Life, Literature, and the Implied Author: Can (Fictional) Literary Works Make Truth-Claims?
    (pp. 153-195)

    Many literary works are commonly said to express, imply, suggest, or convey certain propositions: that man is a helpless victim of natural and social forces, for example, that he can achieve even a limited autonomy only by destroying himself, that man is capable of infinite self-perfection if he will only trust his innate sense of right and wrong, that modern man is fundamentally corrupted by his materialism and the increasing development of technology, that these have reduced him to the status of a beast or a cog in a machine, that man’s only hope to regain his humanity is utterly...

  11. VIII Does a Literary: Work Have One and Only One Correct Interpretation?
    (pp. 196-238)

    Edmund Wilson has claimed that the governess in Henry James’The Turn of the Screw“is a neurotic case of sex repression, and that the ghosts are not real ghosts but hallucinations of the governess.”¹ Alexander Jones, on the other hand, insists that the ghosts are not hallucinations of the governess but are in fact quite real.² Christine Brooke-Rose has taken yet another view; she maintains that the question whether the ghosts are real or are hallucinations is left open.³ If one of these statements aboutThe Turn of the Screwis true, does it follow that the other two...

  12. APPENDIX. The Doctrine of Verstehen and the Objectivity of Literary Interpretations
    (pp. 239-300)
    (pp. 301-322)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 323-332)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 333-333)