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Where's the Truth?

According to Terry Eagleton, there is "no such thing as 'pure' literary critical judgement or interpretation" (13).

I think the keywords in this statement are "judgement" and "interpretation." That is, after all, what our analysis of literature inevitably amounts to, and nothing more. In studying literature, one cannot produce factual claims that explain author intent, symbolic meaning, etc. As readers, we can only interpret and attempt to prove our opinions by using the words on the page as support. (Of course, we can search for other venues of support, such as the author's historical background, but that's a whole separate topic.) While this end result of such hard work--reading, rereading, and rereading again until we think we know what the author meant--can be incredibly frustrating, it can also be fun. Yes, we critical readers are very masochistic; we enjoy the pain of deliberating over what exactly it was that Keats meant when he wrote "beauty is truth, truth beauty" at the end of his poem, "Ode to a Grecian Urn." Do not be fooled by our incessant complaining...underneath our grimacing veneer lies a giant dance party within our soul. Okay, maybe I'm over exaggerating a bit, but you get the point. The fact is, if we didn't have to interpret or pass judgments about what we read, we wouldn't read at all. We read because reading causes us to think...to pass judgments on what we read, and in turn, evaluate our own existence in relationship to the conclusions we form. In essence, we are searching for that paradoxical truth : the answer we will always seek, yet never completely find. Thus, the show goes on, and we find pleasure in the search. In my opinion, it's the quest for literary truth that we as humans benefit from most, as opposed to actually finding the truth. It's our very ability to interpret and reinterpret that drives us forward. If we ever found facts, we would stop searching.

Comments (4)

Derek Tickle:

I also believe that no matter how much we study the words on the page all we can do is state our opinion based on our perception of the author's intent. I also could spend hours trying to determine why Keats wrote, "Beauty is truth, truth beauty" in his last stanza. Eagleton stated how a critic, Richards, used "literary value-judgements." This connects directly with what you and I both hold beliefs in. As humans we read, re-read, and re-read again. It is through the process of analyzing literature that we determine "value-judgements" about the text and/or author.

Actually, Ellen, your first attempt to post the URL was just fine -- click on your name and it takes you to this page. But copy-pasting the URL is just as good.

Ellen Einsporn:

Thanks, Dr. Jerz. Derek: You bring up a good point concerning what Eagleton wrote. He states that none of our critical judgments are "pure." Like you said, our literary judgments do connect directly to our own previously held beliefs. With that realized, I think it's important for us to listen to the literary opinions of others; while we cannot entirely escape biases within literary interpretation, we can at least attempt to escape our own for a moment by putting ourselves in the shoes of other critics. Doing this will either strengthen our own ideas or debunk them so that we form new ones from scratch. Thus, while we can't escape the impurities that are inescapable in our literary insights, we can at least broaden our insights by listening to others, impurities and all.

Derek Tickle:

It almost seems that it is a trail and error process because we usually bounce ideas off of other people. This can be conducted in a classroom or everyday conversation. The literary intelligence (or opinion) of other people seems to only enhance our own perception of what a literary work is intended to represent.


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