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February 5, 2007

A Hirsch Interpretation

Objective Interpretation, Hirsch

Literary Criticism-- EL312

no mere sequence of words can represent an actual verbal meaning with reference to public norms alone. Referred to these alone, the text’s meaning remains undetermined

Hirsch stressed the importance of looking at the author’s history to understand the meaning of the text. Just sticking to the text won’t be able to get a very concise interpretation. I understand where Hirsch is coming from; we need background info on the time of the author to maybe determine the intended audience. We can not look at a poem of Poe and explain what it means “to us, today”. It is like playing Russian roulette, by not learning the background of the author, your luck will definitely run out (I apologize for a grim analogy). Personally I disagree, if there is a meaning that the author wants us to see then he or she will make it clear in their literary work. Going more into my analogy, Hirsch stated that: “The array of possibilities only begins to become a more selective system of probabilities …” According to him, with that background knowledge, it is more a game of chance than an interpretation.

We have to realize however that this is only one critical approach that can be placed on literature. There is no totally wrong answer, even though sometimes we can completely mess up the readings from time to time.

Posted by KevinHinton at February 5, 2007 10:19 PM


I think you started to get at the same idea I did - the notion that history is pop culture. It is difficult to translate things into a modern idiom or even remove ourselves from our current place in time and space, however, it is not impossible and having a pure understanding of the past does not always equate into a genuine understanding of something.

I actually found myself agreeing with Hirsch on a number of things, but I didn't go with him whole hog. I enjoyed the "Russian Roulette" analogy. It seemed to fit. And I think you hit the nail on the proverbial head when saying that we can just really mess up a reading sometimes. We're not perfect. Neither are they.

Posted by: Kevin at February 8, 2007 4:29 PM

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