Literary Theory after Davidson

Literary Theory after Davidson

Literary Theory after Davidson

Literary Theory after Davidson

Synopsis

Donald Davidson is probably the most eminent living analytic philosopher, and his writings in philosophy of language and philosophy of action have shaped much of the recent work in both these fields. However, despite the obvious shared concerns of literary theory and these aspects of philosophy, up to this point literary theorists have not paid much attention to Davidson's ideas or have only known about them through the interpretations of other philosophers like Richard Rorty. Literary theorists have seen more relevance to their concerns in Continental philosophy and, among analytic philosophers, in the essentially anti-analytic work of J. L. Austin and Ludwig Wittgenstein than in the harder tradition of analytic philosophy&- more concerned with logic and philosophy of science&- represented by the work of Donald Davidson. Literary Theory after Davidson challenges both views, stressing the variety of ways in which Davidson's thought can contribute to the development of literary theory. Davidson himself has contributed a new essay to the collection that explores the interrelations between his theories of language and literature.

Excerpt

This is a collection of essays assessing the potential significance of Donald Davidson's work in analytic philosophy for issues in literary theory. That way of defining the scope of this book obviously entails a number of presuppositions, the existence and value of something called literary theory and of something else called analytic philosophy, and finally the idea that there can be a fruitful relation between them. in what follows, neither I nor the other contributors will take the time or space to argue explicitly for these essential presuppositions, but we are all certainly aware that they have undergone some challenge. the demise of both literary theory and analytic philosophy has been both announced and predicted, and surely anyone who feels that the death of theory is near and that philosophy has entered a "postanalytic phase" will have little interest in a conversation between these two. the essential if peculiar role of presuppositions in human communication is in fact one of the things analytic philosophy has brought to light, and it would be an easy task to show in turn the philosophical and theoretical presuppositions of such critiques of literary theory and philosophy: only a literary theorist could call for or announce the death of theory; only philosophers concern themselves with the continuance or cessation of philosophy. Calling for an end to philosophy is in fact rather a stale theme in philosophy by now; as Hilary Putnam has reminded us, philosophy always buries its own undertakers.

But Northrop Frye has another wise reminder, which is that "most 'defenses of poetry' are intelligible only to those well within the de-

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