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Shorter Reviews141 are doing. Smith tries to solve the problem by claiming that "because the composition (N.B., composition) of a fictive utterance is a historical act . . . some of the meanings of that act . . . are historically determinate" (pp. 137-38, her italics). But her central, explicit view is that a "fictive" work is not an act at all, in particular not that act. A similar difficulty arises from her claim that assumptions about the author's intentions, i.e., inferences or hypotheses about "the 'designed' design" of a fictional work, are "usually crucial to the nature of our cognitive engagement with it" (p. 122). For if, as she notes, the author's intentions are "historically determinate" (p. 146, her italics), then it would seem that, in accord with her main thesis, "usually" our enterprise is radically misguided because it rests on a fundamental misconstrual of the nature of "fictive" literary works, i.e., it violates the basic convention as to how such works are properly taken. Furthermore, although Smith speaks of constraints to which interpretations are subject, it is not clear what exactly, on her view, they are. She mentions "linguistic, cultural, and . . . literary conventions" (p. 37) prevailing at the time the work was created. But if the essential difference between the interpretation of "natural utterances" and the interpretation of "fictive" works is that the latter is "contextually unrestricted" (p. 121), if a critic who interprets, say, Paradise Lost can properly "decontextualize" the work, "appropriating for one purpose ... a verbal structure originally designed for another purpose" and thus "reauthor" (p. 150) it, then it is unclear how the linguistic, cultural, and literary conventions at the time the work was written can, any more than the (original) author's intentions, impose constraints on interpretation. Princeton UniversityP. D. Juhl The Act ofInterpretation: A Critique of Literary Reason, by Walter A. Davis; ix & 194 pp. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1978, $13.00. In the opening paragraph of his book, Walter Davis tells us that he is convinced that there is "a single order of questions implicit in literary study and a single order of concepts capable of giving a systematic direction to the diverse investigations that make up the discipline" (p. 1). The possibility of providing a solid foundation for literary study rests, he claims, on the fact that an author's purpose in writing a literary work is immanent in the work. "The task of interpretation is to apprehend the purposive principle immanent in the structure of the literary work which determines the mutual interfunctioning of its component parts" (p. 2). Discovery of the immanent principle that manifests the author's purpose makes possible the unification of "everything we can know about the literary work in a synthetic understanding that would be grounded, throughout its operations, in the act of close textual interpretation" (P- D- 142Philosophy and Literature These are heady claims with which to begin a critique of literary reason; unfortunately they remain only that. In a manner characteristic of so much recent metacritical speculation, Davis offers little argument in support of them. Much of his book is given over to discussion that does little to advance the claims with which he began. Davis spends a full one-fifth of the book sketching what, following Richard McKeon, are proposed as the four distinct modes of human thought, though little subsequent use is made of the resulting schematism. An even greater portion of the discussion is devoted to the development and criticism of three different interpretations of Faulkner's purpose in writing "The Bear." While interesting, indeed illuminating, Davis's discussion of these interpretations remains curiously disconnected from the ensuing theoretical discussion which it is meant to support. This divorce of critical theory from critical praxis, so common to metacritical discussion, seemingly derives from the dubious, though widely held, assumption that principles of criticism are entailed by a theory of literature. It is symptomatic of this assumption both that critical theory is rarely distinguished from literary theory and that proposed principles of criticism are typically defended by appeal to certain supposedly essential properties of literary works. In Davis's case the assumption apparently arises from his belief that criticism, like...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 141-142
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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