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IN PRAISE OF TRUE PLURALISM by Wendell V. Harris Roland Barthes's "Ecrivains et écrivants" appeared in 1960, his "La mort de l'auteur" in 1968, and his "De l'oeuvre au texte" in 1971; Jacques Derrida's De la grammatologie and "L'écriture et la différence " in 1967; and Michel Foucault's "Que'est-ce qu'un auteur?" in 1969. The doctrines of the indeterminacy of meaning and the irrelevance of authorial intention (indeed of authorship) inculcated in these (and similar , often heavily derivative) texts remain potent as critical weapons, talismans, and guarantors of theoretical orthodoxy. However, after twenty years in which authorial authority and textual integrity have increasingly been dismissed, it is once again becoming evident that, whatever the theories governing literary theorists' arguments, in daily life their expectations have remained pretty much the same. They appear to continue to expect not only that their arguments will be understood to have determinate points, but that they will be assumed to have intended to make these points. Curiously, English departments proceed just as though instructors intended to communicate determinate thoughts to students and to encounter intentionally constructed meanings in the students' work. Moreover, students are graded and recommended for scholarships and fellowshipsjust as though they were An essay on Paradigms Regained: Pluralism and the Practice of Criticism, by James L. Battersby; xv & 306 pp. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991, $32.95. Philosophy and Literature, © 1992, 16: 364-372 Wendell V. Harris365 responsible for intending reasonably determinate meanings, and certainly academic theorists expect not only to be recognized but given tenure and promoted not as mouthpieces through which the language chooses to utter itself, but for the unique merit of the presumably meaningful texts that they have authored. Now the human mind has a large tolerance for contradictions, but it was to be expected that after a while what Geoffrey Hartman in 1980 celebrated as an achieved revisionist movement in critical theory would face a counterrevisionism striving to recognize and find a place for the still active if publicly unacknowledgable assumptions that meanings are intended and may be interpreted. James L. Battersby's Paradigms Regained : Pluralism and the Practice of Criticism is one of the best efforts in this counterrevisionist current. By tackling a variety ofwhat he sees as confusions and misconceptions, Battersby seeks to restore to respectability critical alternatives to "the countless dark and dense essays in the allegorical mode favored by theory" (p. 5). The book is strategically well-organized, moving from demonstrations of the possibility and necessity of different humanly constructed schemes and models that reflect different human interests through a series of arguments that make up what Battersby calls "one long reclamation project, an attempt to recover for use much that has been discarded as worthless by recent critical theory" (p. 247). In the process a number of central points are repeated in ways that make them mutually reinforcing principles. At the center of Battersby's entire mode of thought is the principle of pluralism (which others might call perspectivism) and which he explicitly links to Hilary Putnam's "internal realism" and Nelson Goodman 's "constructionalism." Essentially such pluralism is the recognition that: —while all human understanding depends on a humanly constructed scheme or system, some actions andjudgments are true, appropriate, or effective within that system while others are not; —there are an indefinite number ofsuch systems possible even within the same culture in the same historical period—that this is the case demonstrates that individual reason is not wholly determined by cultural forces; —the human mind is capable of translating at least the greater part of one system into another and recognizing the differences that are not directly translatable because incommensurable; —what is found interesting evidently depends on one's own interests; 366Philosophy and Literature —a given text is organized around a given set of interests which the reader must recognize in order to interpret the text; —and that "readings" of a text must be distinguished from interpretations . Although the above six points seem to me to sum up the central principles of Battersby's pluralism, his position is best understood by surveying the supporting arguments arranged in a slightly different manner. The following...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 364-372
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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