The student of literature is at present confronted by a bewildering variety of theoretical positions and vocabularies. Many teachers believe the subject has entered into a state of crisis, which has been sustained since the advent of structuralism by the rise of deconstructive analyses of literature. I wish to ask in what follows how far new theoretical models for criticism reflect the type of intellectual upheaval which occurs when the paradigms for common practices change, and how far the shifts of methodological allegiance amongst teachers and students may be directed to further pragmatic ends. I interrelate and criticize linguistic, structuralist, deconstructive and Marxist approaches to the text, which have previously tended to be discussed separately.
I thus wish to take the reader through some of the most important theoretical issues that he will have to confront along with the individual text. These are the ways in which it is made intelligible in reading, its relationship to linguistic description, its (possible) reference to the external world, its susceptibility to deconstructive analysis, and finally its relationship to frameworks of belief or ideology which the interpreter may himself wish to promote. I approach these problematic areas by analysing what I take to be the underlying logic of typical examples of the interpretative strategy at issue.
In doing so I of course attempt to argue for a coherent position of my own, which encompasses what we might reasonably say when we interpret a text. I therefore begin by investigating the way in which it may have implications--our theory of meaning. This will reflect a balance between our understanding of 'what the text means' and what we may want to say in declaring that meaning, our making of interpretations. These do not simply reflect our understanding, for in so far as they are passed on to an audience they have pragmatic purposes.
As I hope will emerge in what follows, I mean by this pragmatist approach to interpretation to develop a theory which is not concerned with the pursuit of the ultimate 'truth' about the text: this is because most texts can be seen to be radically ambiguous, and cast in a language that is incapable of giving us a consistent picture of reality, which the interpreter can pass on. The languages available for interpretation are also plural, and they too cannot be