Text, Interpretation, Theory
Recent literary criticism has assumed several distinguishable forms: practical or formalist criticism, which comments on texts as entities in themselves; contextual criticism, which examines texts against a background of the worlds that produced or transmitted them; hermeneutical criticism, which examines the art of interpretation itself. To mediate between competing approached a metacriticism or comparative criticism has arisen, asking questions such as: Is criticism possible? What produces meaning? The essays in this issue of Bucknell Review illustrate the variety of contemporary discourse. The first group of papers presents some metacritical approaches. Vincent B. Leitch examines the meaning of Jacques Derrida's call for a "new style" by tracing chronologically the development of his deconstructive approach to texts. Derrida's program, Leitch argues, "involves a continuous and insistent shift from terminology to rhetorical organization, from semantics to syntax." Henry D. Herring discusses an alternative to deconstruction: constructivist interpretation. In this approach, "the literary work takes on a serious role. It effects a construct of beliefs that interpret the world . . . but then it elaborates, explains, validates and/or refutes the construct it creates." For constructivists, the literary work "exists as an entity eternal to its creator and reader." Mary Bittner Wiseman considers the pluralistic approaches of Roland Barthes and his theory of reading the "avant-garde text." Marjorie Cook explores the current critical debate on the question of meaning in poetry and how meaning relates to ideology, by touching on a wide range of contributions to that debate before offering her own suggestion. The papers of the second part interpret a variety of specific texts in ways that illustrate the interplay of various theoretical approaches. Thomas Cartelli examines how the corrupt and unpolished text of Shakespeare's Timon of Athens has evoked a range of critical responses, from attempts to "improve" the text to explorations of the underpinnings of Shakespeare's dramatic art to dismissals of the play from sustained consideration. John C. O'Neal's essay discusses the approaches to and ultimate solution of the problems self-representation poses in the autobiographical works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Ross Pudaloff discusses a related point, Thoreau's composition of himself as a narrator. Considering Thoreau's strategy for dealing with sex in Walden and The Maine Woods Pudaloff argues that Thoreau "solved what had become the problem of sexuality in the nineteenth century by making it a feature of the world rather than a constituent of the narrative self." In the final essay of the volume Timothy Peltason joins the discussion of the relation of self and world by focusing on how the act of emergence is presented in Tennyson's early poems, "The Kraken" and "The Lady of Shalott." While these poems as cautionary fables expose "the difficulties and the dangers facing the self that would make its debut . . . at the same time they are exemplary acts of emergence, announcing the presence of a strong, new poet."
Contributors: Vincent B. Leitch, Henry D. Herring, Mary Bittner Wiseman, Marjorie Cook, Thomas Cartelli, John C. O'Neal, Ross J. Pudaloff, and Timothy Peltason.
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