THREE Work and Text
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Three WOR K A N D T E X T So called texts of poetics are not always useful in understanding the work that inspired them, but they help us understand how to solve the technical problem which is the production of the work. Umberto Eco, on literature T5170.indb 44 T5170.indb 44 12/10/09 9:19:29 AM 12/10/09 9:19:29 AM Artworks Are Not Equivalent to Their Structures A text is like a musical score. Umberto Eco, on literature Artworks are not equivalent to their structures from the standpoint of identity. But what about individuation? If literary works are not equivalent to texts, what is the relation between creations that boast identical texts? What is the relation between individuation and appreciation of artworks or more generally between ontology and axiology ? The merits of any analytic proposal can be ascertained by how well it handles these questions vis-à-vis common sense, common aesthetic intuitions, and critical practice. A good benchmark for my own theses is once again provided by localists . If you recall from Chapter 2, the localist approach to identity was alluringly simple: artworks are equivalent to their texts. By now we know why this is not so. But localists also propose that artworks are equivalent to their structures as far as individuation is concerned. In other words, they propose that all aesthetic features of an artwork needed for individuation reside exclusively in its structure. If so, it would mean that all evidence for art interpretation would come from the direct evidence of the critic’s senses. In this picture life is indeed easy: the context does not matter, and an identical text is always one and the same text. The localists do concede that artworks may exhibit properties other than directly perceptible ones. However, according to them, these have zero bearing on aesthetic properties and thus on interpretation. Specifically , aesthetic properties of an artwork are said to be independent of its history of creation, including the crucial subset of this history bracketed T5170.indb 45 T5170.indb 45 12/10/09 9:19:29 AM 12/10/09 9:19:29 AM 46 Literature, Analytically Speaking by the artist’s intentions. Work-related facts from the artist’s path to creation or from the historical context would, after all, take the critic outside the directly perceived “art-ifact.” The variant of localism specific to literary studies is textualism— the belief that literary works are identical to their texts. Textualists are scholars who would do away with the concept of a work altogether and those who merely confuse the reading of texts with the interpretation of literary works.1 We need to distinguish textualism from other variants of localism because, when it comes to literature, straightforward localism is not possible. Unlike interpretation of music, painting, or sculpture, in which we can directly perceive at least such properties of the works in question as sound, color, or texture, the aesthetic interpretation of a novel must perforce be preceded by linguistic comprehension. In passing, I should flag an interesting question about the synaesthetic qualities of literature, that is, those shared with other arts such as musical or pictorial compositions. Poetry and prose display, after all, a number of musical qualities, such as rhythm, rhyme, syncopation, and onomatopoeia , perceivable as directly as are the musical qualities of Chopin’s polonaises or Zappa’s xenochronies. At the same time, literature displays pictorial qualities, most apparently in shaped poetry. This aspect of the relation between the aesthetics of textualism and localism could benefit from study in its own right. In literary studies the most influential textualist manifestos were Wimsatt and Beardsley’s “The Intentional Fallacy” (1946) and Frye’s The Anatomy of Criticism (1957). Oddly enough, these pillars of New Criticism remain in remarkable accord with the more modern theories of interpretation . The advent of deconstruction has not, after all, dulled the edge of textualist pronouncements. Quite the contrary. Paul de Man’s Blindness and Insight, which professes his “interest in primary literary texts” (1983, viii), is a good example insofar as “literary text” is, strictly speaking, a contradiction in terms. One cannot appreciate literary attributes such as influence, genre, and originality without stepping outside the text to the work.2 The same confusion underpins another collection of essays that has shaped postmodernist thought for more than a quarter-century: Deconstruction and Criticism (1979). Harold Bloom typifies it with the following fiat: “There are no texts but only...