Interpretation, Deconstruction, and Ideology: An Introduction to Some Current Issues in Literary Theory

By Christopher Butler | Go to book overview

1 Implication

The interpretation of a text typically goes beyond what it simply seems to say, and brings out in various ways its implications. This concern for implication is essential to our understanding of all types of linguistic usage, including the most simple. Indeed those texts which we conventionally treat as 'literary' are not particularly distinctive in having implicit meaning, for so also do newspaper reports, philosophical essays, lovers' quarrels, speeches by American Presidents, and accounts of dreams as given to psychoanalysts.

I wish to argue further that in all such cases, what it is reasonable to say about these implications ultimately depends upon what we take to be the situation referred to in conversation or projected by a text. The presupposition here is that language is a system which can make satisfactory representations of 'reality'. I thus begin by presenting a mimetic view of interpretation; one which as we shall later see, is persuasively challenged by many contemporary critical theorists. According to this view, the meaning of sentences, and above them of discourses and texts, has to be interpreted in context, as relevant to a situation, which thereby activates a complex of beliefs in the speaker and hearer or author and reader. And they are interpretable in so far as they can be shown to observe a number of principles which underly all communicative exchanges.1

On this model, utterances and sentences in texts will have a range of implications which the interpreter may have to specify. Some of these implications may be described as logically derived, in the sense that we would want to say that anyone who had a mature command of the language involved would have to accept at least these implications. Thus to use Smith and Wilson's example, the sentence, 'My son threw a brick at the window' has a number of entailments to which the speaker would have to be committed, such as, 'I have a child', 'My child threw a brick at something', and so on.2 From this point of view, a sentence may be taken to mean by implication a set of propositions which represent its semantic structure: its semantic entailments. The relative firmness of this structure will be important for the interpretation of metaphor.

To these logical entailments we nearly always have to add the contextual determinants of implicit meaning. These perform the immensely important task of helping us to see how one part of a conversation or text may be relevant to another. Thus Smith and

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Interpretation, Deconstruction, and Ideology: An Introduction to Some Current Issues in Literary Theory
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction ix
  • 1 - Implication 1
  • 2.1 - Metaphor in the Text 8
  • 2.2 - Metaphor in the Language 19
  • 3.1 - Linguistics and Interpretation 26
  • 3.2 'Leda and the Swan'; Three Approaches 36
  • 4 - The Text and the External World 46
  • 5.1 - Deconstruction and Scepticism 60
  • 5.2 - Ambiguity and Self-Contradiction 66
  • 5.3 - Free Play 77
  • 5.4 - Norms for Interpretation 83
  • 6.1 - Ideology and Opposition 94
  • 6.2 - Hidden Ideology 103
  • 6.3 - Marxism and the Dominant Ideology 110
  • 6.4 - The Moral and the Political 121
  • Notes 137
  • Bibliography 154
  • Index 157
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