Will we ever know?

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"E.D. Hirsch offers an effective way of approaching such dilemmas. In Validity of Interpretation, he suggests, reasonably enough, when 'interpretive disagreements...occur, genuine knowledge is possible only if someone takes the responsibilty of adjucating the issue in the light of all that is known.' This involves determining a general standard of critical sanity or sensibleness, identifying the various interpretations (in this case, of Keats's lines), examining the evidence relating to each (including biographical and historical), and then judging which interpretation is most probably valid." (Austin 48)

When I first read this passage, I thought Hirsch's strategy that Austin was using and preparing to explain would be very helpful and eventually determine some guidelines for how Keats's poem was to be interpreted (I knew going into the rest of this reading that there wouldn't be a final right way because for literature there usually isn't). However, by the time I reached the end of the reading, I really didn't know what to think about Austin. I had a mixed reaction to his work.

What I did enjoy and appreciate from Austin's work was his use of Hirsch's strategy and the very careful piecing together of information from the six most common and most reasonable interpretations of Keats's poem. I could understand (for the most part) each interpretation and how each one had a possibility. I then appreciated how Austin went back, after giving supporting evidence for each interpretation, and discussed the faults each interpretation had. Finally, I loved how Austin included background information of Keats and used it to help eliminate some of the interpretations. I really liked this approach because usually when I read a critic's thoughts about an author's work, I'm always wondering how much opinion is involved and how that would play out in the critic determining their comments. Austin included several different interpretations and some background information to try to compare what was the same or what could be the most accurate between them. I think this limited some opinion and relied some what more on fact. 

However, despite everything I liked about Austin's discussion, I still found it amazing that all of his work just led to a search for an answer that he could never find completely. I know he used as much historical fact and reason to eliminate some of the interpretations, but with literature there isn't a final answer or correct intrepretation. As Erica pointed out in her blog, we will never know what Keats was really thinking when he wrote the poem. Austin could be right with the interpretation he chose as the correct interpretation; however, for some unknown reason, he could also be completely off. His nine page analysis (for a much shorter poem) could be heading in the right direction, or he could have missed completely. I think it is interesting to try to figure out what the author's original intent of a work was when it was written, but I think it is also important to see how a work influences its readers who may not look at it through the same perspective as Austin or Hirsch. I believe a work's original intent is important, but its actual influence, regardless of its original intent, must also be considered. An original intent may never be known while an influence may be easier to see and claim. I think both are important to understanding someone's writing. 

Go back. 

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~Depth~       Here are a few blogs that are a little longer and had a little more work than usual put into them. Some of them are explanations, many are questions and thoughts that I had on a particular work... Read More


Jenna said:

Katie, you bring up a lot of great points about how we will never know the true meaning of a work. When we are critiquing a work, I think that we tend to look at how it fits into a literary period, and sometimes forget about the writer’s beliefs that affected the writing. I think the background information is important to critiquing, but I agree with you that its impact on others must be taken into consideration as well. Sometimes we need to see how works fit into the present so they are continually read in the future, instead of always focusing on the past. I think when people read a poem for fun, they imagine how it applies to their lives.

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