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March 26, 2007

EL312: Pretext, yo: The un-Bedford

So in reading Wright's piece on psychoanalysis, I stumbled across the word "pre-text." I circled it. I always circle words that I'm not certain of in sentences, whether I think I know the definition or not.

With my circled word, I went to the Bedford and was a little let down when I didn't find the word there. It goes straight from pre-Raphaelite to presence and absence... Left to my own devices, I took out a thesaurus and logged on to dictionary.com.

Pretext (without the hyphen, even though Wright uses a hyphen on p. 394) is an alibi or an excuse (Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus 705).

The example used in this fine resource is as follows: He used the pretext of looking for his dog to come into our yard.

While it seems a little too much like "excuse" or "reason" in this example, the other words listed in the thesaurus include false, ostensible reason, alleged reason; guise, ploy, pretense, and ruse (705). Ah ha, I know the word pretense--i.e. "His pretense led me to believe that he was innocent."

The entry for "pretense" in the Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus: make believe, putting on an act, acting, dissembling, shamming... play-acting, posturing; deception... subterfuge, trickery, dishonesty, hypocrisy, falsity, lying, mendacity; ANTONYM: honesty (705). Oh, glory in a thesaurus!

When Wright uses this word in her piece--"[The events] are then seen through the eyes of the title figure, Benito Cereno, through the insertion of another text, or pre-text (394)--I don't think she means falsity or any of those lovely words above.

What about that hyphen, again...?

If I am to guess, without any dictionary or thesaurus to reference since none of them contain my hyphenated word in question, I would say that the meaning of "pre-text" is the text that comes before. In this case, I think that would be the document that Melville used to implicate historical facts into his short story. In Wright's statement, she implies that the events are seen through a number of "eyes;" the historical document is just another set of eyes through which to view the events and shows us whether or not Melville stuck with the history or not.

Pretext and pre-text: not the same thing. But it's great to know it. Thanks again, hyphen, for throwing me off.

Murfin and Ray, Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

Posted by KarissaKilgore at March 26, 2007 2:46 PM


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