Friday, October 30, 2015

How Does Discursive Thought Maintain a Sense of Reality?

This isn’t about mundane reality, e.g. is that lake in the distance real or a mirage? This isn’t about the reality that stage magicians fool around with. This is about the reality defined by professional intellectual activity.

That reality, like even mundane reality, is circumscribed by a world view. We’ve got these “representations” “in our head” and see the world through them. What Thomas Kuhn called normal science has its paradigms, which it “tests” by making hypotheses and then looking for evidence to confirm those hypotheses, or not. Thus does normal science maintain a sense of reality.

How do discursive thinkers, historians, anthropologists, and, my particular concern, interpretive literary critics – how do these thinkers maintain a sense of reality? There are, of course, various kinds of things that literary critics do. They prepare editions of texts – something more prevalent 50 years ago than now – and they inquire into the history of books, authors, and literary practices. Set that aside.

What about the interpretive critics? How does one maintain a sense of the real if one is in the business of interpreting texts? If anything goes, then there is no reality, is there? It’s just whatever the critic thinks.

That was the question that confronted academic literary criticism in the 1960s and 1970s. Those who argued for fidelity to authorial intention were saying, in effect, That’s where reality is, the author’s intention. That’s the REAL meaning. But, as I suggested yesterday, that was never a very strong appeal about the gathering and weighing of evidence. It was more of a metaphysical stance.

Where, in the process of writing, within discursivity itself, did one seek reality? Is that what deconstruction was about? Is that the rationale behind the verbal ploys? And when deconstruction gave way to various (often identity based) political criticisms

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