Volume 31 Number 2

Richard Fleming and Michael Payne (Eds.)

New Interpretations of American Literature

1988
163 pages
ISBN 083875127X
Bucknell Review

The essays in this volume offer new interpretations of works by Hawthorne, Thoreau, Melville, Stevens, and Moore. At a time when so much attention in literary study has been given to breaks, slippages, and irreconcilable oppositions in texts, these essays emphasize instead the importance of what can be determined through careful, contextually informed reading. O. Alan Weltzien discovers moments of interrupted festivity as constituting a prominent emblem in Hawthorne's iconographic style. Laura Laffrado recovers the importance of Mrs. Wakefield and the significance of matrimony in Hawthorne's short story "Wakefield." In the similarities between Pearl and Chillingworth in The Scarlet Letter, Ronald Emerick finds a powerful instance of Hawthornes's recurring fascination with heredity as a determinant of character. Richard H. Dillman, in his three-part study of Thoreau's philosophy of rhetoric and style, draws on the complete range of Thoreau's work to reconstruct his views on the art of writing. Drawing on Jung's account of the shadow archetype, Michael Vannoy Adams proposes an explanation for Ahab's fascination with evil in Moby-Dick. Barbara M. Fisher, on the other hand, casts a suspecting glance at Jungian interpretations of Steven's interior paramour, finding the poet's main sources in the Bernardine soul as sponsa, as derived from the Song of Songs, and in Plato's Diotima, Nancy Prothro Arbuthnot traces Steven's autobiographical turn in The Auroras of Autumn, which he looked on as possibly his last poems. In reaction against Helen Vendler, J. Hillia Miller, and Frank Doggett - who have stressed Steven's indeterminacy - Terrance King argues that the poet's enigmas can be solved in a way that reveals his deliberate strategy of secrecy. Finally, in her reading of Marianne Moore's "Marriage," Rosanne Wasserman discovers that the poem's meaning arises from a difficult marriage of lexis and structure, which emerges from the complexity of detail in the poem. These essays, rather than adopting a reactionary stance against theory, demonstrate the importance of descriptive interpretation for the understanding of literature. Such description, when freed of the blinders that kept the New Criticism from seeing wither the author or the audience of a work, remains central to criticism that is conceived as a body of knowledge about literature. Perhaps nowhere else than in literary study is it possible to assess so readily the observational and descriptive adequacy of interpretive statements that propose to advance what is known about a subject by examining the primary documents on which those statements are based. However complex the art of reading surely is and however changeable the meanings of words and the methods of criticism brought to them, the author's text remains a liberating reference point. Rather than binding the students of literature, the text in its accessibility frees them from critical doctrine and priestly authoritarianism. In this way the literary text forms the center of a community of critical readers, who may only rarely meet face-to-face but whose views about their common literary concerns can be shared, understood, modified, and developed.

Contirbutors: O. Alan Weltzien, Laura Laffrado, Ronald Emerick, Ruchard H. Dillman, Michael Vannoy Adams, Barbara M. Fisher, Nancy Prothro Arbuthnot, Terrance King, and Rosanne Wasserman.

About the editors:

Richard Fleming is the John Howard Harris Professor of Philosophy (distinguished chair) at Bucknell University. He has taught philosophy and humanities course at Bucknell since 1983 and has received numerous teaching excellence awards. His Bucknell University Press publications include Sound and Light: La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela (edited with William Duckworth, Bucknell Review 40:1, [1997]), and The State of Philosophy, 1993.

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