The final belief is to believe in a fiction, which you know to be a fiction, there being nothing else. The exquisite truth is to know that it is a fiction and you believe it willingly. (Stevens, Opus Posthumous, p. 163)
It's nearly sixty years since William Empson talked about the multiple meaning (polysemy) of grammatical structure and labelled it 'ambiguity' (Empson, 1930). There has been, and continues to be, a great deal of formal analysis associated with the description of such ambiguities, which has tended to throw into the shadows, in some linguistic and literary circles, one of the 'machinations of ambiguity' that Empson held dearest: the ambiguity constructed by readers when they are unable to fore-ground one particular meaning in a text as being of more value or significance than another. When applied to text analysis, the result is an analysis that doesn't just take notice of multiple meanings, it actively looks for, and expects to find, more than one meaning, more than one reading. In these circumstances, analysing text becomes quite a different activity from analysing text for the, single, determined meaning (see Bennett, 1987; Eagleton et al., 1984; Felperin, 1985 for discussions of this).
This is because the theory of language that is behind it argues for considerably more 'play' and freedom in the way that language means. That 'play' doesn't just happen; rather, it is recognized because the theory of language recognizes what causes it. Institutions and people cause it. But in many linguistic/ literary theories and practices people and institutional practices, and their potential for disturbing neatly worked out meanings, have been kept as far away as possible from the techniques and theories involved in the analysis of text. The almost single-minded pursuit of scientific status for studies in the humanities is the