Monday, 15 August 2005

All My Vintage Peeps! or Knapp and Some Knappy Conjectures I promised to dish about Literary Interest and have so far failed to follow through. But I have a reason: Despite being a straightforward read free of jargon and impressive citations, Knapp's book bedevils those who desire summary. The prose consists of tight argumentative knots which defy citational logic. (Though maybe not that way.) Especially interesting is the manner in which his prose enacts his argument about authorized implicature (about which more momentarily). Let me walk you through his argument: An author intends "readers to imagine that certain things were the case; that is, he intended his readers to imagine certain states of affair." Furthermore, an author also intends "those imagined states of affairs to to be connected to each other in ways that would sustain certain logical inferences from one to the other." Were this author Milton--the subject of the first chapter--he would have "intended his reader to imagine states of affair whose interconnections would be tight enough, for example, to sustain an inference from Eve's speaking to Eve's having a mouth; or from Adam's standing to Adam's being in contact with the ground" (9). Knapp's rhetorical strategy here is almost Darwinian in its cunning. Darwin opens The Origin with a discussion of selective breeding--a commonplace of human society since we've settled down--because he knows that if he builds on common sense he's locked his readers down. Knapp works in the same vein: first he convinces you that if Eve speaks she has a mouth, then throws a viscious left and sends you reeling: What happens if the rest of the work doesn't logically follow in the same way Eve's speaking entails her having a mouth? Since the world the author wanted to create cannot meet the Eve's-speech-to-Eve's-mouth standard of logical implication, Knapp wonders whether the author's foisted his authorial responsibility onto his readers. "[A] critic is empowered to imagine additional states of affairs that will enhance the coherence of the world projected by the author," Knapp argues, "even if the states of affairs thus added are utterly foreign to the author's intentions" (25). The sign to the left says it all. How can the coherence of an author's imagined world rely on the work of critics who would would "enhance the coherence of the world projected by the author even if the states of affairs thus added are utterly foreign to the author's intentions." That makes no sense. Or so it seems. According to Knapp, an author invests in his work as coherent a world as he can muster because he knows his readers will speculate on its value. Is Knapp introducing an economic metaphor into his formulation? He is. Only it's not his. It belongs to Keats and Boccaccio. Knapp is no Keats. Knapp is no Boccaccio. If you sense the imminent arrival of an argument akin to the Darwinian argument alluded to above, you've more insight into Knappy Knappian thought than I. Tomorrow I'll continue working through his argument for you. In the meantime I'd be...

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