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Annette Barnes WHAT IS THE MATTER? Polonius. What do you read, my lord? Hamlet. Words, words, words. Polonius. What is the matter, my lord? Hamlet. Between who? — Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2 Polonius tries to resolve the ambiguity of his question—"I mean the matter that you read, my lord." If a suggestion recently made by Edward Wasiolek is correct, however, the question "Between who?" still demands an answer, even after Polonius' clarification. According to Wasiolek, it turns out that the matter that we read is not a matter "between who" we might have supposed: "For the discovery of the text is the discovery of ourselves. We are the bearers, and we bring what we first find in ourselves. This is why great texts seem so close to us; we help write them." x Whose words is it that we are reading? Can it be that we are talking to ourselves? Although I shall suggest a way in which it is reasonable to answer yes, it seems obvious that in some important way we have not invented the conversation, and that however we regard the text, it does exist prior to our reading of it. There are words written for the most part in a natural language, and it is to these words in this language that we attend. Moreover, the language was used by some person, the work is an intended object (computers and chimpanzees are not counted among our authors). If we are then reading words written by an author at a particular time, is the matter between us and him or her? If it were, and the author were alive, one reasonable approach would be to discuss the matter directly with him or her. If we conceive the matter to be between a particular author and ourselves, the matter is never (as some have supposed it to be) solely in the author. 2 According to Wasiolek, however, we would be naive to suppose that the matter is simply between the particular author and ourselves. More 209 210Philosophy and Literature than the author's being, and more than our being, is involved in the "making" of a text. The author's beliefs about what the matter was, even when we can establish what these beliefs were, would not exhaust the text. However sophisticated a notion of establishing an intention we work with, the work, if deep, will say more than what was intended by the author, even when the author's intentions have been fully realized in the text. As Wasiolek tells us in his essay in Critical Inquiry, no matter how finely and deeply analyzed, [Dostoevsky's] person and being are not the text or, perhaps more correcdy, are not the only text. More than his age and his being are implicated in the "making" of Crime and Punishment. Our age and our beings are also implicated in the making of the text, as well as the beings and ages of those who have not yet appeared (p. 389). It turns out that we are not simply talking with the author and his age, we are talking with ourselves and our age. Although future ages and beings may be implicated, we do not know what their implication will be, and so they cannot be included in our present conversations. Jorge Luis Borges has suggested that all of the ages that have come between ours and the author's may be implicated as well. Pierre Menard rewrites Don (Quixote, and although "Cervantes's text and Menard's are verbally identical, . . . the second is almost infinitely richer."3 There are matters to be discovered in a text, and only some of them have to do with a dialogue between an historical author and ourselves. In this essay, I explore Wasiolek's suggestions that critical readers of works are "makers" of texts, and that "the discovery of the text is the discovery of ourselves." In order to illuminate what I take to be the substance of Wasiolek's claims, it will be helpful to make use of the notion of "the world of a work."4 The process of understanding a text, an understanding which involves "making," is the process...


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pp. 209-221
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