Your Definition of Objectivity Sounds Subjective to Me

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From E.D. Hirsch, Jr.’s “Objective Interpretation”:

“It is necessary to establish that the context invoked is the most probable context. Only then, in relation to an established context, can we judge that one reading is more coherent than another.  Ultimately, therefore, we have to posit the most probable horizon for the text, and it is possible to do this only if we posit the author’s typical outlook, the typical associations and expectations which form in part the context of his utterance” (Hirsch 25).

I have rather mixed feelings about Hirsch’s essay.  I am not a big fan of formalism.  I do think that formalism has its place in literary criticism.  Analyzing the words, meter, structure, etc. of a work is invaluable in making a believable argument about a piece of literature.  However, I also do not think it is appropriate to only pay attention to these elements of a work and ignore the response created in the reader or what the author may have intended. 

But, I think Hirsch, like many formalists, is too stuck on the idea of there being one “correct” type of criticism and this same philosophy bleeds into his philosophy of how one can interpret a text.  He is under the impression that there cannot be possible readings of work which are equally probable, and I have an issue with this idea.  I agree with him that the author’s probable intentions are a good way to “verify” the accurateness of an interpretation, but are there not multiple readings which could be verified by the author’s probable intentions?

Furthermore, I take issue with his belief that his style of criticism is so objective.  In the quote I chose from his essay (see above), he discusses the importance of setting up the “probable context.”  But in my opinion, this context we are to set up is going to be subjective to some degree.  This context, like facts, is no real solid basis of objectivity.  Where does one get the information about the author’s outlook if not from us attributing probable actualizations to paroles the author uses in other works which we should not subjectively assign to the words?  There are so many probable’s at each level of the interpretation in this school of criticism that I have a hard time seeing this type of criticism as any more objective than the formalism which Hirsch criticizes. 

Read what others think about Hirsch’s “Objectivity”.

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