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Critical Discussion Interpretation: An Essay in the Philosophy of Literary Criticism, by P. D. Juhl; ? & 332 pp. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980, $20.00. Discussed by Martin Warner tí A LL OF us WHO Read," St. Augustine remarked in his Confessions, "are trying X~\.to trace out and understand what our author wished to convey," as if he were the patron saint of Professor Juhl's camp in a notorious modern dispute. Characteristically, however, he also seems to lend his authority to its opponents. Given that "one mode of expression can be understood in a number of different ways, ... I should prefer to write in such a way that my words would convey any truth that anyone could grasp, rather than set down one true meaning so clearly as to exclude all others." Further, at least in the case of the Pentateuch, it is much more difficult to determine "This is what Moses thought" than "This is true, whether Moses meant it or not," but fortunately the link with intention can profitably be cut altogether, for "what harm can it do if a man grasps hold of something . . . true, even if the man whom he was reading did not grasp this truth?" Augustine's magnificent intellectual journey, across what is now a no man's land separating Hirsch and Juhl from Wimsatt, Beardsley, and the Structuralists , was rendered coherent by reference to the Holy Ghost as the true author of Scripture, as were most of the complex hermeneutic systems of his contemporaries. It is now nearly a century since Dilthey showed in a famous essay how hermeneutic debates within the Church have developed the categories and set the terms within which much modern debate about interpretation proceeds . Nevertheless, Biblical critics who have lost any significant faith in the Holy Ghost, and literary critics who disavow any concern for the veracity of the texts they seek to interpret, finding themselves unable to recreate analogues of those ancient syntheses which gave point to the practice of interpretation, Philosophy and Literature Vol. 6 Nos. 1 and 2 Pp. 172-179 0190-0031/82/0061-0172 © 1982 by The Johns Hopkins University Press Martin Warner173 remain oddly reluctant to break with the traditional categories. Time has brought its revenges; in Dilthey's day one was urged to read the Bible "as literature," but today literature is read (often unwittingly) as though it were the Bible — with predictable results. Different critics champion one aspect of an older unity against another, until one is reminded of Arnold's "darkling plain/. . . Where ignorant armies clash by night." Sartre claimed with some bravado to have "caught the Holy Ghost in the cellars and flung him out of them," but admitted that "atheism is a cruel long-term business," and among contemporaries perhaps only Derrida has taken with full seriousness the difficulty and radical nature of the changes in our thinking required by any resolute attempt to discard or "deconstruct" our hermeneutic traditions — traditions which he sees as being riddled by the "metaphysics of presence." Whether Derrida is correct in his analysis of this metaphysics, or indeed in his distrust of it, is of course another matter. Professor Juhl has little sympathy for such "revisionary" exercises. Admitting that if literary works "were understood very differently, our cultural tradition itself would be likely to be or become very different from what it is," he does not pause to consider whether such differences would be desirable, but turns at once to the "descriptive" enterprise of showing "what our common concept of the meaning of a literary work is" (p. 3). Against the protest that contemporary disagreements in theory and practice cast doubt on the supposition that any single and coherent concept of this sort has universal sway in our culture, he argues that "the intuitions and tacit assumptions which on my account form the basis of literary interpretation also underlie the practice of those critics and theorists who hold metacritical positions contrary to mine" (p. ix). II The position defended is a strongly intentionalist one. "There is a logical connection between statements about the meaning of a literary work and statements about the author's intention such that a statement about the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 172-179
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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