Language, Literature, and Critical Practice: Ways of Analysing Text

By David Birch | Go to book overview

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How texts mean: reading as critical/political practice

But it is not 'or', that is the point.

It is 'and'. Everything is. (Lessing, Briefing for a Descent into Hell, p. 141)


Language as showing

According to the philosopher Martin Heidegger, the world can for the most part be seen to mean in two ways: in terms either of 'things' or of 'ways of existing'. If you view the world as he did, in terms of ways of existing, then 'what it means to be in a world is more important than the classification of the world into a kind of entity' (Gelven, 1982:315). In terms of language this means that 'what it means to speak is prior to language; what it means to think comes before an understanding of the entity, mind' (Gelven, 1982:315). Language is therefore a means of understanding what it means to be. And this is highly resistant to formal/scientific (either sociologically or psychologically oriented) analysis. The world is not an object which scientists and critics its subjects-can step out of and analyse, impassively and objectively, and then step back into when they go for lunch or go to the beach. Understanding the world is not simply a matter of end-stopped, closed-off classification of a dichotomy between object and subject. For Heidegger, language is not about representing something; 'it performs real actions in the world of beings' (Koelb, 1984:35). Analysis sets out to understand the whole of a text from its detail, and the detail of a text from its whole-the hermeneutic circle (see Szondi, 1978). This is an important point to understand, because it creates a method of reading and re-reading, that never closes its reading of a text (see, for example, Barthes, 1975; see also Eco, 1979; Riffaterre, 1978; Rosenblatt, 1978).

Understanding, for Heidegger, is a dynamic activity, an interaction or dialogue which is never fully completed, never finished,

-5-

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Language, Literature, and Critical Practice: Ways of Analysing Text
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Series Editor's Introduction to the Interface Series xi
  • Foreword xv
  • Acknowledgements xvi
  • Text Analyses xvii
  • Preface 1
  • 1 - How Texts Mean: Reading as Critical/Political Practice 5
  • 2 - Language, Literature and Scientific Fictions 45
  • 3 - Reading Literary Texts: Traditions, Assumptions, Practices 57
  • 4 - Reading Texts Closely: Language, Style and the 'Buried Life of Words' 88
  • 5 - The Linguistics of Text: Structures and Strictures 117
  • Afterword 167
  • Notes 170
  • Bibliography 176
  • Index 207
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