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Book Reviews On the whole, Russo's readable and often elegant study justifies its vast length. But at times, one wishes for a shorter, more succinct version that did less with Richards's later years and left out digressions referring to how other critics regard or even might regard Richards. Thus he places Richards's work synchronically in the context of the current critical debate, as when he tests Richards's concepts of belief and sincerity with "an Adornian critique": "Any reappraisal of Richards on belief and sincerity should take into account Theodor Adorno's Hegalian-Marxist critique of inwardness and authenticity." Maybe—but whether such digressions are necessary or useful is debatable. Yet we should, I think, express our gratitude for Russo's splendid biography, which helps us to appreciate Richards's generous spirit, energy, immense learning, and probing intellectual curiosity. Daniel R. Schwarz Cornell University The Search for Meaning Wendell V. Harris. Interpretive Acts in Search of Meaning. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. xiv + 192 pp. $32.50 IN SOME QUARTERS, the passionate ideological conflicts concerning literary theory are giving way to ecumenicism. Wendell V. Harris's Interpretive Acts in Search of Meaning encourages us to see interpretation as a dialogue between critical theories we have come to accept as holding irreconcilable assumptions. While he finds speechact theory most amenable, Harris is generous in his appreciation of many critical approaches. His book explores the process and validity of interpretation not by following schools of literary criticism, but by observing the shared territory into which they swim. Not that Harris equivocates. He believes that meaning is determinable (though never more than probable), and that interpretation depends upon context. The body of the book defines and examines the seven types of contextuality which he believes shape literary interpretation . He eschews the popular figuration of the balance of power —who controls meaning, the writer or the reader?—in favor of a speech-act model which sees meaning as interactive and allows for "intention," in the form of illocution and implicature, to exist for both parties. Thus he is most interested in the mechanics of shared conventions in which both writer and reader are subsumed. 263 ELT: Volume 33:2, 1990 The book reflects Harris's categorizing sensibility: he begins by articulating even elementary assumptions, anticipates most contrary arguments, and is thorough in his defense. The debt to other critics is substantial and always acknowledged. Harris has taken up Mary Louise Pratt's charge in Towards a Speech Act Theory of Literary Discourse (Indiana University Press, 1977) to see reading as a social act and to explore the relation between linguistics and literary theory. He expands the ground to cover disciplines which may be less familiar to students of literature—discourse theory, philosophy of language, and socio-linguistics. These opening chapters constitute an intelligent primer on the history of speech-act theory, its relation to semiotics, and its allegiance with the pursuit of meaning in other related disciplines. A relative tyro (like myself) may nonetheless finish these chapters still unconvinced that speech-act theory, which originated as an explanation for spoken communication, should serve equally well as a model for the special conditions of written discourse —which may isolate writer and reader and interpose great distances, cultural and temporal, between them. Having surveyed the ground, Harris takes up his argument in earnest. The first two contexts he delineates are meaning and significance . Following E. D. Hirsch's distinction between the intended "meaning" of the author of the text and the "significance" accorded by the reader, Harris defines interpretation as "the reconstruction of intended meaning that attempts to take into account as far as possible the contexts in which the author assumed the anticipated audience would place the utterance or text," and criticism as the pursuit of significance "in terms or contexts not presumed by the author." Harris's distinction between interpretation and criticism is descriptive , not evaluative; nevertheless, he explores interpretation more closely because he believes it is the more complex activity, one which calls into question the most basic assumptions about how meaning is conveyed, and which reveals "the complementarity of all sorts of critical and scholarly activities . . . with special...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 263-265
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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