Tuesday, 23 August 2005

Literary Interest, Part II: This Time, It May Even Be Coherent In the earlier version of this post I impatiently criticized arguments I had yet to establish, the result being a brazenly inaccurate or deeply stupid account of the argument Knapp forwards in Literary Interest. I promise no assumptions’ll be prodded until after I proffer his argument in toto. He articulates the short version of his argument at the end of the fourth chapter: The object of literary interpretation is necessarily the meaning intended by some agent or collectivity of agents. But the object of literary interest is not an intended meaning; in fact, it isn’t literally a meaning at all. The object of literary interest is a special kind of representational structure, each of whose elements acquires, by virtue of its connection with other elements, a network of associations inseparable from the representation itself. (104) Floating there alone, far from the arguments which substantiate it, that claim surely strikes readers as the conventional formalist claim for the autonomy of the literary object. Its “representational structure” closes in upon itself such that being interested in the regicide in MacBeth is “not to be interested in regicide as but in regicide as set in its “galaxy of symbols"--regicide, that is, as suggesting, and suggested by, the thoughts and emotions appropriate to daggers, and crows, and naked babes, and so on” (104). The previous version of this post jumped the tracks by overemphasizing the arguments Knapp proposes and dismisses as he updates Wimsatt’s notion of “the concrete universal.” Here they are: The intended world of an author like Milton should allow “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). If he succeeds, his intentions can be divined. If he fails, his intentions can be probed and critics can attempt to supplement the work with whatever it needs to achieve coherence, e.g. the Romantics reenvision Milton’s intentions and in so doing create the coherent Miltonic world Milton himself could not. But Knapp insists that “one’s interest in the problem of Milton’s authorial agency can go beyond an interpretive interest in figuring out what action milton performed or failed to perform” (27). Therefore an interest in analogies between poets and their poems, or poets and readers, or readers and poems is hard to account for in either theoretical or interpretive terms. But [his] claim is not that a non-interpretive and non-theoretical interest in analogies is for that reason anomalous or mistaken. On the contrary, it is precisely for this kind of interest that I propose to reserve the adjective “literary.” (29) Via Keats’ Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil and Kant’s Third Critique, Knapp then discusses the possibility that aesthetical ideas, as represented in metaphor, are suggestive without being meaningful in any predetermined way. Metaphors brim with “negative capability” because they communicate only indirectly. Whatever cognitive content a metaphor possesses, it also possesses...
Statements of Impurposiveness; or, as Gordon Gano Sings: "Lies Lies Lies Lies, Lies Lies Lies, Lies" Digging through "My Documents" for some notes which have mysteriously vanished into the very bowels of my computer, I stumbled across my "Statement of Purpose." You know, the thing undergraduates send to graduate schools to convince them that they (the students) are worthy of their (the graduate programs) attention. Needless to say, it's terrible. What it lacks in intellectual engagement it more than makes up for with its dour descriptiveness of my pretensions. I've included it in its entirety below the fold, and I've even corrected the typos, misspellings and factual errors. You heard correctly: I somehow managed to get accepted despite typos, misspellings and factual errors. Anyhow, "highlights" include: I am currently writing an Honors thesis on Thomas Pynchon’s criticism of colonialism and its concomitant domination of language in his earlier novels, V. and Gravity’s Rainbow. In writing this I have had my first experience of what graduate work will be like, and to be truthful, I thoroughly enjoyed the nights I spent in the library reading, among others, Frantz Fanon, Michel Foucault, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. We all remember how well that turned out. This is not to say that I plan on reading theory to the exclusion of other works. I should say not. If now-me could travel back and inform then-me of where he'd end up, I'm sure then-me (a buffer if denser version of now-me) would challenge me to step outside. [I] have started reading the complete works of George Eliot, a task I hope to have accomplished in full by the time the Fall of 1999 rolls around. I cannot be sure, but I think this may have been an outright lie. Sure, I read Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda, but that's far from the complete works. (As Jonathan likes to remind me, I'm still prone to such exaggerations. They're well-intentioned whites lies, however, as they're meant to inspire me to transform them into big colorful truths.) Those goals can and most certainly will evolve as I learn more and discover new literatures and theories, which is what excites me the most about continuing my education into and beyond the graduate level. Something excites him about graduate school? Obviously someone has yet to spend a couple years toiling over a dissertation. My word processor has become a graveyard for needlessly informative or woefully inadequate “statements of purpose”. Some contain my life story in full, some limit themselves to my intellectual history, while others are narrative attempts at explaining “how I got to where I am now,” but their imposed narratives rendered all of them little more than wistful fictions. So instead of making more stillborn contributions to “the story of who I was and how that man became this one,” I will tell you who I am and who I wish to become while attaining my doctorate. “Who I am” is a student interested in the more covertly political statements made by literary works. For instance, I am currently writing an Honors thesis on Thomas Pynchon’s...

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