Act & Quality: A Theory of Literary Meaning and Humanistic Understanding

Act & Quality: A Theory of Literary Meaning and Humanistic Understanding

Act & Quality: A Theory of Literary Meaning and Humanistic Understanding

Act & Quality: A Theory of Literary Meaning and Humanistic Understanding

Excerpt

This book offers a theoretical examination of literary meaning. It is devoted to three basic questions--how one can define the constituent units and principles of organization that make literary texts coherent semantic and aesthetic experiences; how the elements of meaning make it possible to derive criteria for distinguishing the roles that various interpretive acts play and for judging the validity of those acts; and how one can use an account of meaning and interpretation in order to understand and defend the values traditionally attributed to literary experience.

The last of these questions is the one most responsible for both the shape of my argument and the contribution I would claim for it. I see this book as developing semantic principles capacious enough to lead coherently into models of consciousness which make obvious the cognitive roles literature might play and the satisfaction involved in such cognitive activity. We are not without contemporary theories which pursue the same goal, but most of them, I shall argue, neither provide accounts of meaning that will stand up to philosophical analysis nor correlate meanings with the values I consider most important for literary studies. Unless we can recover the force that writers intend by their efforts as artists and interpreters of action, I do not think we can justify appeals we make to their authority and wisdom. And without such appeals, I doubt that humanistic education or its objects have much claim upon the attention of society.

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