Act & quality: a theory of literary meaning and humanistic by Charles Altieri

By Charles Altieri

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10 My task is compounded by the fact that I must appeal to two different kinds of practices and grounds for judgments-one a large community, which can reflect upon its capacity to communicate in language, and the other a more specialized group, which one can claim is competent to judge interpretations of literary texts. The first case holds no difficulties in terms of criteria. The ultimate test of claims about meaning is whether they are consistent with ordinary speech practices. Communication through language is not a natural fact: we cannot tell from observation whether communication takes place, at least not in many cases, unless we take into account what people say or how they interpret their experience.

It seems that only interpreters act, not authors, at least not in intelligible ways, so that attributing meanings involves a continual process 2. Norman Holland, Poems in Persons (New York: Norton, 1973), p. 98; Edward Said, Beginnings (New York: Basic Books, 1975), pp. 66-67, 261; and Paul de Man, "The Purloined Ribbon," Glyph 1 (1977):30 The quotation below from de Man's essay is on p. 46. Page 7 of displacement-into the eye of the beholder, into an endless chain of methods created by both authorial and interpretive desires, or into the endless duplicities of words defining the status of other words.

Finally, I mean by consistency as a criterion of theory both internal coherence (relative to the nature of one's critical language) and the power of one's language to connect with other languages. A literary theory is not necessarily falsified if its account of literary meaning is incompatible with standard accounts of ordinary semantic practices. But such a condition leaves the theory incapable of making any claims for how the texts plausibly connect with such forms of linguistic action in the world.

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