American Critics at Work: Examinations of Contemporary Literary Theories

By Victor A. Kramer | Go to book overview

NEGOTIATED KNOWLEDGE OF LANGUAGE AND
LITERATURE

by David Bleich

During the past few decades, many in the language and literature professions have tried to formulate sophisticated new systems for developing knowledge in this field. Generative grammarians and speech-act theorists have brought new perspectives on language; structuralists, phenomenologists, and deconstructionists have proposed new attitudes and new practices for literary interpretations. Most of these efforts have been animated by the need to give language-based knowledge authority comparable to that enjoyed by mathematically based knowledge for the past three or four centuries. These efforts have been complicated, however, by the widespread belief that binding authority and absolute truth shall never be a feature of linguistically articulated knowledge, or of knowledge about language itself. As a result, there exists a particularly rich and interesting collection of opinion, but with no clear consensus on which single epistemology shall govern this large common interest, or on whether the search for a common epistemology should be abandoned altogether.

Although previous crises in epistemology, such as that precipitated by Copernicus, have had revolutionary social and religious effects, today's ferment has an especially urgent character because the universal means of human discourse is the topic as well as the means of investigation. We are no longer dealing with an image of the earth in the universe or with an hypothesis regarding the origin of life. We are dealing, rather, with the fact that when any linguistically formulated proposal of knowledge is scrutinized long enough and thoroughly enough, even the most familiar and reliable knowledge can come to seem like a superstition. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, close attention to language has shown that each human being holds a sig

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