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Setting Some Standards

“Hirsch proposes the standard of ‘coherence’-the relationship of meaning to the author’s psychological and philosophical stance, to what the author is likely to mean under a particular set of circumstances. Hirsch’s second major criterion is ‘correspondence’-an accounting for all the parts of the work and their relationship to the whole.” (Keesey 48)

Finally there is something that English majors can use to guide their interpretations of a work! Sometimes interpretations can get a little crazy when people are left to their own volitions. I think that many times we look at the era a work was written and then try to see how it fits into the literary period. Probably most people bypass or do not research the author’s beliefs. In this chapter, Austin did a nice job picking apart interpretations of “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” The main element that Austin constantly went back to was “on earth.” By using Keats previous works, Austin analyzed how “on earth” was a separate earth of eternity on the urn. However, Hirsh’s standards of coherence and correspondence seem to go against Eagleton’s “Introduction: What is Literature?” Eagleton said that old literature stays when new generations unconsciously rewrite works into their ideas. People would be making their own interpretations to keep the works as literature. Therefore, the guides for interpretations by Hirsch may not necessarily sustain works as literature. People tend to use their feelings to interpret works, which often dictates whether they like and keep it. However, as an English major, I find Hirsch’s criteria very useful.

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Comments (3)

Ellen Einsporn:

I found Hirsh's two standards interesting as well. I particularly agreed with his standard of correspondence. Too often, I think people focus on a single part of a work of literature to prove their opinions. The best example I can think of right now is the Bible: I don't have a stat to back this up, but I think I might be right in saying that it is probably one of the most misquoted written works in existence. The concept of keeping what you are trying to prove about a certain section of a work in line with the entirety of the work is a good practice to follow; if you don't, someone could come along and completely disprove your claim by quoting a section of the same piece of literature you are studying that conflicts with your claim (kind of like Austin does by referencing the phrase, "on earth" repeatedly in his analysis of the correct interpretation of Keat's poem.)

Good observation Jenna! I did not notice that these two ideas seem to conflict. My best answer to the difference lies in the way we critique these works as individuals and then as critics.

When I read initially, I tend to try to apply what I'm reading to my life in order to try to understand it. If I can find a connection, I have an easier time unlocking the meaning (or what I think is the meaning). If I find the poem unrelatable to my life, I have a hard time finding what it is about because it is something new.

As a critic, however, one needs to move beyond the initial stage of relating and find the deeper meaning. For example, I would be interested to know if the urn that Keats discusses is a water carrying urn or a remains urn. But when it all comes down to it, Keats does not want us to know, he has a limited knowledge of the urn as well. All he can say is what he sees. Because of this, the purpose of the urn is irrelevant. Though I have my curiousities, the critic within knows that they are not always important and thus must be cast aside. Issues like the meaning of the urn are more important, thus why Austin discusses them.


Ellen, I completely agree with you about the Bible being misquoted a lot. When I was reading this chapter all I kept thinking of was how Chaucer's Wife of Bath only used a part of scripture to push her beliefs onto the other pilgrims. On the flip side, I guess people's twists of quotes make literature remain literature, as Eagleton wrote.

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