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← 4. Configurative Reading

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Showing Revision 1 created 12/15/2012 by Amara Bot.

  1. Prof: So before we go on
    to talk a little bit about the
  2. American historicist
    hermeneutical scholar
  3. E.D. Hirsch,
    and then Wolfgang Iser--for
  4. whom you have your reading
    assignment--
  5. I want to go back to Gadamer a
    little bit and say something
  6. more about his taste,
    that is to say,
  7. the kind of literary and
    intellectual canon that his
  8. approach to hermeneutics
    establishes.
  9. You remember Gadamer is very
    much concerned with the norm of
  10. classicism,
    which later in his essay he is
  11. inclined to call
    "tradition"
  12. instead,
    and the reason that's so
  13. important to him is that he
    actually has a very conservative
  14. view of what the reader can
    accomplish in understanding
  15. another horizon.
  16. Gadamer, in other words,
    doesn't think that the reader
  17. can perform any great miracles
    in intuitively feeling his or
  18. her way into the mind of another
    time and place,
  19. so that the value of classicism
    and of tradition for Gadamer is
  20. that there is evident common
    ground in certain texts.
  21. Sometimes we refer to them as
    "great books"--
  22. in other words,
    the sort of text that speaks,
  23. or we feel as though it's
    speaking,
  24. to all places and times.
  25. Of course, it's contested
    whether or not there is really
  26. any merit in talking about texts
    that way.
  27. But Gadamer's view is very
    strongly that this conservatism
  28. about the canon,
    which is intimately related to
  29. his conservative doubt about the
    actual capability of a reader to
  30. span enormous gaps--
    and I use that word advisedly
  31. because it is the word that Iser
    uses to talk about the distance
  32. between the reader and the text,
    and the way in which that
  33. distance should be negotiated--
    so in any case this
  34. conservatism,
    it seems to me,
  35. however, can be questioned.
  36. I thought that we'd begin then
    by turning to page 731,
  37. the left-hand column,
    the footnote.
  38. You're beginning to realize,
    I'm sure, that I like
  39. footnotes.
  40. Gibbon of course was said to
    have lived his life in his
  41. footnotes.
  42. Perhaps I live my life in the
    footnotes of other people.
  43. In any case,
    in this footnote Gadamer says
  44. something--
    I think it's very rare that we
  45. can actually just sort of
    outright disagree with Gadamer,
  46. but he says something in this
    footnote that I believe we can
  47. actually disagree with.
  48. Toward the bottom of the
    footnote,
  49. 731, left-hand column,
    he says, "…
  50. [J]ust as in conversation,
    we understand irony to the
  51. extent to which we are in
    agreement on the subject with
  52. the other person."
  53. We understand irony only,
    he means, to the extent to
  54. which we are in agreement with
    the other person.
  55. If you are expressing an
    opinion, in other words,
  56. which differs radically from my
    own,
  57. I can't understand,
    according to Gadamer,
  58. whether or not you're being
    ironic.
  59. This seems to me to be just
    patently false.
  60. Think about politics.
  61. Think about political talk
    shows.
  62. Think about political campaigns.
  63. When our political opponent is
    being ironic about our views we
  64. understand the irony perfectly
    well.
  65. We're used to it,
    we have accommodated ourselves
  66. to it, and of course it's the
    same in reverse.
  67. Our opponent understands our
    ironies,
  68. and there is,
    it seems to me,
  69. a perfect kind of symbiosis,
    ironically enough,
  70. between political opponents
    precisely maybe in the measure
  71. to which their ironies are
    mutually intelligible.
  72. It probably teaches each of
    them a good deal to be able to
  73. accommodate,
    to encounter,
  74. to get used to the ironies of
    the other,
  75. and I think this applies to
    conversation in general.
  76. It's very easy to pick up most
    forms of irony.
  77. We don't have an enormous
    difficulty grasping them,
  78. and it doesn't seem to me that
    our capability of grasping irony
  79. is founded on a necessary,
    underlying agreement.
  80. That's what he's saying.
  81. Now if this is the case,
    it seems to me that one has
  82. found a loophole in Gadamer's
    conservatism about what the
  83. reader can do.
  84. His premise is that in order to
    understand, there has to be a
  85. basis of agreement;
    but if what we've just said
  86. about understanding each other's
    ironies,
  87. even where there is pretty
    wholesale disagreement,
  88. is true, that ought to apply
    also to our capacity to read
  89. work with which we distinctly
    disagree,
  90. with which we feel we can never
    come to terms in terms of
  91. affirming its value,
    but which we nevertheless can
  92. understand.
  93. If understanding is not
    predicated on agreement,
  94. the possibility of opening up
    the canon,
  95. as we say, insisting that it
    doesn't have to be an absolutely
  96. continuous traditional canon,
    is available to us once again
  97. and Gadamer's conservatism on
    this issue can be questioned.
  98. Now it's not that Gadamer is
    insisting on absolute
  99. continuity.
  100. On the contrary.
  101. You'll probably remember that
    he says early in the essay that
  102. in order to recognize that we
    are in the presence of something
  103. that isn't merely within our own
    historical horizon,
  104. we need to be "pulled up
    short."
  105. In other words,
    to go back to that example once
  106. more,
    we need to recognize that
  107. there's something weird about
    that word "plastic,"
  108. and in being pulled up short we
    recognize the need also for the
  109. fundamental act of reading in
    Gadamer which is the merger of
  110. horizons: in other words,
    that we are dealing knowingly
  111. with a horizon not altogether
    our own that has to be
  112. negotiated,
    that has to be merged with our
  113. own for understanding to be
    possible.
  114. In fact, Gadamer even insists
    that if we don't have this
  115. phenomenon of being pulled up
    short, our reading is basically
  116. just solipsistic.
  117. We just take it for granted
    that what we're reading is
  118. completely within our own
    horizon and we don't make any
  119. effort at all to understand that
    which is fundamentally or at
  120. least in some ways different.
  121. Gadamer acknowledges this,
    even insists on it as I say,
  122. but he doesn't lay stress on it
    because the gap that is implied
  123. in the need to be pulled up
    short is not a big one.
  124. That is to say,
    it's one that we can easily
  125. traverse.
  126. Take the example of
    "plastic"
  127. again: "Oh,
    gee, that's a strange
  128. word," we say,
    so we go to the OED [Oxford
  129. English Dictionary],
    we see it meant something
  130. different then,
    our problem is solved,
  131. and we continue.
  132. No big deal, right?
  133. But there may be ways of being
    pulled up short,
  134. occasions for being pulled up
    short, that Gadamer thinks
  135. exceed the imaginative grasp of
    a reader.
  136. As you'll see when we return to
    Iser after I've said a few
  137. things about Hirsch,
    this, as you'll see,
  138. is the fundamental difference
    between Gadamer and Iser.
  139. Where for Gadamer,
    the gap between reader and
  140. text,
    between my horizon and the
  141. horizon of the text,
    is perforce a small one,
  142. for Iser it needs to be a much
    larger one in order for what he
  143. calls the "act of the
    reader,"
  144. the reading act,
    really to swing into high gear,
  145. and we'll see that this has
    implications for the obvious
  146. difference between their two
    canons.
  147. All right, but now I want to
    say something about the passage
  148. from which I quoted over against
    the passage from Gadamer at the
  149. end of the Gadamer lecture.
  150. You remember Gadamer said we
    have to be open to the otherness
  151. of the past in order that for us
    it may "speak true,"
  152. but if we simply bracket out
    our own feelings,
  153. that can't possibly happen so
    that we have to recognize that
  154. in this mutuality of the reading
    experience we really are in a
  155. conversation.
  156. We're open to being told
    something true by someone else.
  157. Hirsch on the other hand says,
    "Oh, well,
  158. The important thing is to know
    the exact meaning of that other
  159. no.
  160. person because that's the only
    way to honor the otherness of
  161. the person.
  162. Kant says people ought to be an
    end and not a means for us;
  163. we ought to understand them on
    their terms."
  164. Gadamer's claim,
    however, was that if we do
  165. that, we are in fact suspending
    the way in which it might be
  166. that they speak true.
  167. We are honoring instead the
    integrity of what they're saying
  168. without thinking about whether
    or not it might be true.
  169. So I introduced Hirsch in that
    context,
  170. and now I want to go back to
    him a little bit and I want to
  171. work with two passages which I
    have sent you all in e-mail-form
  172. and which I have neglected to
    put on the board,
  173. but they're so short I don't
    think that will be necessary.
  174. The first of the two passages I
    want to talk about is Hirsch's
  175. argument that "meaning is
    an affair of consciousness and
  176. not of words"--
    meaning is an affair of
  177. consciousness and not of words.
  178. In other words,
    the text is what makes the
  179. ascertainment of meaning
    possible and available to us,
  180. but meaning is not in
    the text.
  181. Meaning is in the intention of
    the author, and that is what we
  182. need to arrive at as we work
    through the text.
  183. Meaning is an affair of
    consciousness and not of words.
  184. Now think about this.
  185. What it means is that in
    understanding a text,
  186. we are attempting to grasp it
    in paraphrase.
  187. We are, in other words,
    attempting to grasp it in a
  188. sentence that might read
    something like,
  189. "What the author means to
    say is-- "
  190. Right?
  191. So that it's not what the text
    means--which might be anything,
  192. according to Hirsch,
    if you just appeal to the text;
  193. it's what the author means to
    say.
  194. Okay.
  195. So what's implied here?
  196. On the one hand,
    you could say this is just
  197. absolute total nonsense.
  198. We use a text to find meaning
    in something that we don't have
  199. available to us.
  200. Why don't we just find meaning
    in the text, which is available
  201. to us?
  202. That would make more sense.
  203. It's up to us to construe the
    text.
  204. We can't possibly know what the
    author meant except on the basis
  205. of our determination of the
    meaning of the text,
  206. so why not just focus our
    attention to meaning on the
  207. Hirsch was a student of Wimsatt.
  208. text?
  209. Hirsch was engaged in lifelong
    disagreement with Gadamer but he
  210. was a student of Wimsatt,
    the author of "The
  211. Intentional Fallacy."
  212. Obviously, Hirsch was a
    rebellious student
  213. >
  214. and insisted that,
    far from wanting to take
  215. Wimsatt's position,
    appealing to intention was the
  216. most important thing you can do,
    the only thing you can do which
  217. establishes--
    according to the title of his
  218. first important book on
    hermeneutics--
  219. "validity in
    interpretation."
  220. All right.
  221. It's very difficult intuitively
    to assent to Hirsch's position,
  222. and I'll just tell you by the
    way that I don't,
  223. I can't, but I will say in
    passing in defense of Hirsch
  224. that if we reflect on the
    matter,
  225. we realize that in common sense
    terms,
  226. appealing to an author's
    intention is precisely what we
  227. do for practical reasons.
  228. Let me give you an example.
  229. You're all students.
  230. You are sitting in classrooms
    that in many cases oblige you to
  231. take exams.
  232. Your instructor tells you when
    you write your exam,
  233. "Don't just parrot the
    words of the authors you're
  234. studying.
  235. I want to know that you
    understand those authors."
  236. Think about it.
  237. You prove to your teacher that
    you understand the authors by
  238. being able to put their meaning
    in other words--
  239. in other words,
    to say the author is intending
  240. to say something,
    not just that the text says
  241. something and this is what it
    says,
  242. with your exam then being one
    long screed of quotation.
  243. Ironically, the instructor
    doesn't really want just
  244. quotation on an exam.
  245. He wants explanation,
    and the form of explanation is
  246. paraphrase.
  247. You can't have paraphrase
    unless you can identify a
  248. meaning which is interpersonal,
    a meaning which can be shared
  249. among a group that understands
    it and can be expressed in other
  250. words.
  251. That's the key.
  252. If you can put it in other
    words, those other words take
  253. the form of an appeal to
    intention.
  254. All right.
  255. That's an important argument in
    Hirsch's favor.
  256. We realize that practically
    speaking,
  257. the necessity of appealing to
    paraphrase in order to guarantee
  258. mutual understanding certainly
    does seem to be something like
  259. agreeing or admitting that
    meaning is an affair of
  260. consciousness,
    not of words--my consciousness,
  261. the author's consciousness,
    the consciousness that we can
  262. all share.
  263. That's where we find meaning,
    and meaning takes the form of
  264. that kind of paraphrase that
    everyone can agree on.
  265. So much then to the advantage
    or benefit of Hirsch.
  266. There are lots of things to be
    said against it,
  267. on the other hand,
    which I don't want to pause
  268. over now because I think a
    course of lectures on literary
  269. theory will inevitably show the
    ways in which paraphrase is
  270. inadequate to the task of
    rigorous interpretation.
  271. Cleanth Brooks,
    a New Critic,
  272. writes a famous essay called
    "The Heresy of
  273. Paraphrase,"
    insisting that proper literary
  274. interpretation is a wooden,
    mechanical, inflexible exercise
  275. if it reduces the incredible
    complexity of a textual surface
  276. to paraphrase.
  277. So it's a complex issue,
    and I should leave it having
  278. said this much,
    at least for the moment.
  279. Now one other thing that Hirsch
    says, the other thing that I
  280. quoted, is in effect--I'll
    paraphrase
  281. now-->
  282. that what Gadamer omits to
    realize is that there is a
  283. difference between the
    meaning of a text and the
  284. significance of a text.
  285. That is Hirsch's other key
    position,
  286. and we can understand it by
    saying something like this:
  287. the meaning of a text is what
    the author intended it to mean--
  288. that is to say,
    what we can establish with a
  289. reliable paraphrase.
  290. The significance of the text,
    which Hirsch does not deny
  291. interest to,
    is the meaning for
  292. us--that is to say,
    what we take to be important
  293. about this meaning:
    the way in which,
  294. for example,
    we can translate it into our
  295. own terms historically,
    we can adapt it to a cause or
  296. an intellectual position--
    the ways, in other words,
  297. in which we can take the
    meaning of a text and make it
  298. significant for us.
  299. The difference between meaning
    and significance then is
  300. something that Hirsch takes very
    seriously and he insists--
  301. and here is,
    of course, where it becomes
  302. controversial--
    he insists that it's possible
  303. to tell the difference between
    meaning and significance if,
  304. good historicists that you are,
    you can pin down accurately and
  305. incontestably the author's
    meaning,
  306. appealing to all the
    philological tricks that you
  307. have,
    throwing out irrelevancies and
  308. insisting that you finally have
    the meaning right--
  309. of course, how many times has
    that happened?
  310. which is obviously one point of
    disagreement with Hirsch.
  311. Then, once you've done that,
    once you have secured the
  312. integrity and accuracy of the
    meaning, Hirsch says,
  313. "Okay, fine.
  314. Now you can do anything you
    like with the text.
  315. You can adapt it for any sort
    of possible purpose,
  316. but the crucial thing is to
    keep the distinction between
  317. meaning and significance
    clear."
  318. Obviously, Gadamer refuses to
    argue that we can distinguish in
  319. that way reliably.
  320. We don't know--because it's a
    question of merging horizons,
  321. my horizon and the horizon of
    the text--
  322. we don't know with any
    guarantee where meaning leaves
  323. off and significance begins,
    so that the splitting apart of
  324. the two terms is something that
    simply can't be accomplished by
  325. the way in which we enter the
    hermeneutic circle.
  326. That's Gadamer's position,
    and it is the position of
  327. anyone who opposes that of
    Hirsch, although what he means
  328. by the distinction is clear
    enough.
  329. "Yes, yes,"
    you say, "I see exactly
  330. what he means."
  331. Nevertheless,
    to secure the distinction in
  332. actual practice,
    to say, "Okay.
  333. This is the meaning and now
    this is how I'm going to make it
  334. significant"--
    well, it seems unlikely indeed
  335. that this is something anyone
    could ever accomplish.
  336. All right.
  337. Finally, to turn to Wolfgang
    Iser: Iser is concerned with
  338. what he calls the act of the
    reader--
  339. Akt des Lesers is the
    title of one of his books--
  340. and in so doing he establishes
    himself as a person very much in
  341. the tradition of phenomenology
    deriving from Husserl and more
  342. directly,
    in Iser's case,
  343. from an analyst of the way in
    which the reader moves from
  344. sentence to sentence in
    negotiating a text,
  345. a Polish intellectual named
    Roman Ingarden who is quoted
  346. frequently in the essay that you
    have.
  347. Those are the primary
    influences on Iser,
  348. but he himself has been
    tremendously influential in
  349. turn.
  350. Iser's interest in the reader's
    experience is part of a school
  351. of thought that he helped to
    found that grew up around the
  352. University of Konstanz in the
    sixties and seventies,
  353. and which resulted in a series
    of seminars on what was called
  354. "reception history"
    or alternatively "the
  355. aesthetics of reception."
  356. Iser's colleague was Hans
    Robert Jauss,
  357. whom we will be reading later
    in the course.
  358. The influence of the so-called
    Konstanz School spread to the
  359. United States and had many
    ramifications here,
  360. particularly and crucially in
    the early work of another critic
  361. we'll be turning to later in the
    semester, Stanley Fish.
  362. So reception history has been a
    kind of partly theoretical,
  363. partly scholarly field,
    one that's really still
  364. flourishing and has been ever
    since the early work in the
  365. great Konstanz seminars of Iser,
    Jauss and others.
  366. Iser, later in his career--he
    died just a couple of years
  367. ago--
    taught annually at the
  368. University of California,
    Irvine, and by that time he was
  369. very much engaged in a new
    aspect of his project,
  370. which he called the
    anthropology of fiction--
  371. that is to say,
    "Why do we have fiction?
  372. Why do we tell stories to each
    other?"
  373. All of Iser's work is grounded
    in the notion of literature as
  374. fiction.
  375. He's almost exclusively a
    scholar of the novel--
  376. and by the way,
    one of the first obvious
  377. differences you can notice
    between Iser and Gadamer is that
  378. whereas Gadamer is an
    intellectual historian whose
  379. canonical texts are works of
    philosophy,
  380. works of social thought as well
    as great works of literature,
  381. for Iser it's a completely
    different canon.
  382. He is exclusively concerned
    with fiction and how we read
  383. fiction,
    how we come to understand
  384. fiction, and how we determine
    the meaning of a work of
  385. As I say, in the last phase of
    his career when he started
  386. fiction.
  387. thinking about the anthropology
    of fiction,
  388. he raised the even more
    fundamental question--
  389. I think a very important one,
    though not necessarily to be
  390. aimed exclusively at fiction--
    the anthropological question of
  391. why we have fiction at all,
    why it has been a persisting
  392. trans-historical phenomenon of
    human culture that we tell
  393. stories to each other,
    that we make things up when
  394. after all we could be spending
    all of our time,
  395. well, just talking about things
    that actually are around us.
  396. In other words,
    how is it that we feel the need
  397. to make things up?
  398. All right.
  399. Now as you read Iser you'll see
    immediately that in tone,
  400. in his sense of what's
    important, and in his
  401. understanding of the way in
    which we negotiate the world of
  402. texts he much more closely
    resembles Gadamer than Hirsch.
  403. We can say this in two
    different ways.
  404. We can say that Iser's position
    is a reconstruction of what
  405. Gadamer has, essentially,
    to say about the merger of
  406. horizons.
  407. For example,
    on page 1002,
  408. the bottom of the left-hand
    column over to the right-hand
  409. column,
    he says, "The convergence
  410. of text and reader"--
    Gadamer's way of putting that
  411. would be the merger of the
    reader's horizon,
  412. my horizon, with the horizon
    within which the text appears--
  413. "brings the literary work
    into existence."
  414. This is implied in Gadamer as
    well.
  415. It's not your horizon;
    it's not my horizon;
  416. it's that effective history
    which takes place when our
  417. horizons merge.
  418. That is the locus of meaning
    for Gadamer.
  419. By the same token,
    what Iser is saying is that the
  420. space of meaning is
    "virtual"--this is the
  421. word he uses.
  422. It's neither in the text nor in
    the reader but the result of the
  423. negotiation back and forth
    between the text and the reader,
  424. he says, that sort of brings
    the literary work into existence
  425. in a virtual space.
  426. "…
    [A]nd this convergence can
  427. never be precisely pinpointed,
    but must always remain virtual,
  428. as is not to be identified
    either with the reality of the
  429. text or with the individual
    disposition of the reader."
  430. So you see this is Gadamerian.
  431. This is the result,
    this is the fruit,
  432. of the hermeneutic engagement
    between horizons that results in
  433. meaning.
  434. It's put in a different way by
    Iser, but it is in a large
  435. degree the same idea.
  436. He also plainly shares with
    Gadamer the assumption,
  437. the supposition,
    that the construal of meaning
  438. cannot be altogether objective.
  439. In other words,
    Iser is no more an historicist
  440. than Gadamer is but insists
    rather on the mutual exchange of
  441. prejudice between the two
    horizons in question.
  442. So he argues on page 1005,
    the right-hand column:
  443. One text [this halfway down the
    column]
  444. is potentially capable of
    several different realizations,
  445. and no reading can ever exhaust
    the full potentia,
  446. for each individual reader will
    fill in the gaps in his own way.
  447. This of course brings us to the
    issue of "gaps"
  448. and the role that they play in
    the act of reading as Iser
  449. understands it.
  450. It's an interesting term.
  451. I don't actually know whether
    Iser, to be Hirschian,
  452. means
    >
  453. what I'm about to say about
    gaps, but plainly a
  454. "gap"
    is an abyss,
  455. it's a distance between two
    points;
  456. but what's really interesting
    is that we think of spark
  457. plugs--we think of gapping a
    spark plug.
  458. I don't know if you know how a
    spark plug works,
  459. but for the electrical current
    to fly into operation in a spark
  460. plug,
    the two points of contact have
  461. to be gapped.
  462. They have to be forced apart to
    a certain degree.
  463. Too much, there's no spark.
  464. Too little, you short out.
  465. Right?
  466. There's no spark.
  467. So you have to gap a spark
    plug, and it seems to me that
  468. the "ah-ha"
    effect of reading,
  469. the movement back and forth
    across the gap between the
  470. reader and the text,
    can be understood in terms of a
  471. spark,
    right, as though the
  472. relationship between the reader
    and the text were the
  473. relationship between the two
    points of a spark plug.
  474. Whether Gadamer means that when
    he speaks of gap or whether he
  475. simply means an abyss or a
    distance to be crossed
  476. >
  477. I couldn't say.
  478. Much like the opportunities in
    the word "plastic,"
  479. I think it's useful to suggest
    that this sense of gapping a
  480. spark plug may have some
    relevance to our understanding
  481. of what goes on in this reading
    process.
  482. Now how then does he differ
    from Gadamer?
  483. One way that is I think not
    terribly important but I think
  484. is interesting in view of what
    we've just been saying about
  485. Hirsch and another way that's
    absolutely crucial that we've
  486. implied already and to which we
    need to return.
  487. The way that's perhaps not
    terribly important at least for
  488. present purposes--
    although this is a distinction
  489. that's going to be coming up
    again and again later in the
  490. semester--
    is the way in which he actually
  491. seems to distinguish--
    this is page 1006 in the upper
  492. left-hand column--
    between "reading"
  493. and "interpretation."
  494. This is at the very top of the
    left-hand column.
  495. He says: "…
    [T]he text refers back directly
  496. to our own preconceptions--
    "--Gadamer would call
  497. those "prejudices"--
    "which are revealed by the
  498. act of interpretation that is a
    basic element of the reading
  499. process."
  500. So there's a wedge there
    between the concept of reading
  501. and the concept of
    interpretation.
  502. I would suggest that it's not
    unlike the wedge that Hirsch
  503. drives between the concept of
    meaning and the concept of
  504. significance.
  505. In other words,
    meaning is construal.
  506. Significance is the application
    of that construal to something.
  507. I think that the distinction
    Iser is making between reading
  508. and interpretation can be
    understood in much the same way.
  509. Iser doesn't make much of the
    distinction.
  510. In other words,
    it's not an important part of
  511. his argument,
    which is why I say that the
  512. difference with Gadamer--
    who never makes the distinction
  513. between reading and
    interpretation--
  514. in this matter is slight,
    but the other difference is
  515. very important,
    and that is--to return to this
  516. point--
    that Iser stresses innovation
  517. as the principle of value
    governing the choice and the
  518. interpretive strategies of
    reading.
  519. Innovation is what Iser's canon
    is looking for.
  520. That's what makes it so
    different from Gadamer's
  521. conservative continuous
    traditional canon.
  522. Iser's understanding of gapping
    the spark plug is a much more
  523. bold affirmative of the
    imaginative powers of the
  524. reader,
    a much more bold process than
  525. the hesitant conservative
    process suggested by Gadamer.
  526. Now in order to illustrate the
    way in which what Iser calls
  527. virtual work gets done in this
    regard, let me just run through
  528. a few passages quickly.
  529. If Gadamer says,
    in a way, that he doesn't
  530. really stress in the long run
    that in order to know that there
  531. is actually a difference between
    the reader's horizon and the
  532. horizon of the text you need to
    be "pulled up short,"
  533. something needs to surprise
    you--
  534. well, Iser throws his whole
    emphasis on this element of
  535. surprise.
  536. If it doesn't surprise,
    it isn't worth it;
  537. it doesn't have value.
  538. And we'll talk in more detail
    about the ways in which it
  539. doesn't have value in a minute.
  540. If the element of surprise is
    to become absolutely central and
  541. paramount in the reading
    process, the gap has to get
  542. bigger.
  543. >
  544. It has to be a bigger distance,
    a broader abyss,
  545. and that's what Iser is working
    with in the passages I'm about
  546. to quote.
  547. As I say, I'm going to quote
    three, more or less rapid-fire.
  548. The first is on page 1003,
    the upper left-hand column:
  549. "In this process of
    creativity"--
  550. that is to say,
    the way in which a text induces
  551. the feeling of surprise in the
    reader--
  552. "the text may either not
    go far enough,
  553. or may go too far…"
    Now I admit in this particular
  554. passage you get a hint of
    Gadamer's element of
  555. conservatism.
  556. The text may go too far.
  557. In other words,
    it may make demands on us that
  558. are too great.
  559. For example,
    we're reading Finnegan's
  560. Wake.
  561. We haven't got a clue.
  562. The text has gone too far.
  563. We can't get from sentence to
    sentence,
  564. and even within the sentence we
    have no idea what the words
  565. mean,
    so we're lost at sea unless,
  566. of course,
    we really rise to meet the
  567. challenge;
    but typically or
  568. characteristically in Iser's
    terms the text has gone too far:
  569. "…
    [S]o we may say"--
  570. he elaborates here'--"that
    boredom and overstrain form the
  571. boundaries beyond which the
    reader will leave the field of
  572. play."
  573. In other words,
    if there are no surprises,
  574. it's just a yawn.
  575. Why bother to read at all?
  576. If the surprises are too great,
    then they induce overstrain and
  577. we throw away the book in
    frustration and despair.
  578. So the distance of the gap
    needs to be between the outer
  579. limits of boredom and overstrain
    according to Iser.
  580. Continuing to page 1004,
    the upper right-hand column:
  581. "…
    [E]xpectations"--
  582. this word is what Iser thinks
    governs the sort of dialectic
  583. that the reading process is
    playing with.
  584. Reading consists,
    according to Iser,
  585. in the violation of
    expectations.
  586. For the violation to work the
    expectations have to be there.So
  587. that's the dialectic;
    that's what's negotiated.
  588. There has to be a sense,
    moving from sentence to
  589. sentence, that something is
    likely to happen next.
  590. If that underlying sense isn't
    there,
  591. then whatever happens is simply
    met with frustration,
  592. but if we have the expectation
    that something's going to happen
  593. next,
    and then something different
  594. happens,
    or if the suspense of wondering
  595. what will happen next is in play
    so that anything can happen--
  596. but the experience of suspense
    has been gone through,
  597. then in those cases that's all
    to the good;
  598. that's a good part of the
    reading process.
  599. "…
    [E]xpectations,"
  600. says Iser,
    "are scarcely ever
  601. fulfilled in a truly literary
    text."
  602. You see, that's where the
    evaluative principle that
  603. completely revolutionizes
    Gadamer's canon comes in.
  604. In other words,
    innovation, the principle of
  605. change,
    the principle of violated
  606. expectation,
    is what imposes or establishes
  607. value in the literary text--
    not continuity,
  608. not a sense that across the
    abyss truth is being spoken to
  609. us,
    but rather the sense that
  610. across the abyss we are being
    constructively surprised.
  611. Right?
  612. That's what has changed between
    these two positions.
  613. "We implicitly demand of
    expository texts,"
  614. he goes on to say--
    and he may be alluding to
  615. Gadamer here because after all
    Gadamer is talking primarily
  616. about expository texst,
    works of philosophy,
  617. works of social thought,
    which of course aren't trying
  618. to surprise
    >
  619. or trick us.
  620. They're trying to lay out an
    argument which is consistent and
  621. continuous and keep surprise to
    a minimum.
  622. It's difficult,
    philosophy and social thought,
  623. but it's not difficult because
    of the element of surprise.
  624. It's the vocabulary,
    it's the complexity of the
  625. thought, and so on that makes it
    difficult.
  626. Iser acknowledges this.
  627. He says, "…
    [W]e implicitly demand of
  628. expository texts…
    [that there be no surprise]
  629. as we refer to the objects they
    are meant to present--
  630. [but it's]
    a defect in a literary
  631. text."
  632. That's the difference for Iser
    between nonfiction and fiction.
  633. With nonfiction,
    we don't want to be surprised.
  634. It poses other kinds of
    difficulty, let's say;
  635. but in the case of fiction,
    in order to be engaged,
  636. in order to enter the
    hermeneutic circle properly,
  637. we need the element of
    surprise, as I say,
  638. as a way of distinguishing
    between fiction and nonfiction.
  639. Let's turn to page 1010,
    the lower right-hand column.
  640. The word
    "defamiliarization"
  641. we will encounter soon when we
    take up the Russian Formalists.
  642. "Defamiliarization"
    means precisely pulling you up
  643. short or taking you by surprise,
    making you feel that what you
  644. thought was going to be the case
    or what you thought was the
  645. state of affairs is not the
    state of affairs.
  646. The poet Wallace Stevens puts
    it beautifully when he says that
  647. poetry should make the visible a
    little hard to see;
  648. in other words it should be a
    defamiliarizing of that which
  649. has become too familiar.
  650. That's an aspect of the reading
    process,
  651. and so Iser says:
    "This defamiliarization of
  652. what the reader thought he
    recognized is bound to create a
  653. tension that will intensify his
    expectations as well as his
  654. distrust of those
    expectations."
  655. In other words,
    the tension itself of
  656. simultaneously having
    expectations and feeling that
  657. they should be violated,
    that probably they will be
  658. violated,
    being on the alert for how
  659. they're going to be violated--
    this is a kind of tension,
  660. a constructive tension which
    constitutes for Iser the
  661. psychological excitement of
    reading.
  662. All right.
  663. Having said all of this,
    obviously what Iser means to
  664. say is that the reader should
    work hard,
  665. that the virtual work done by
    the reader to constitute,
  666. to bring into existence,
    a virtual meaning should be
  667. hard work,
    and there's not much work to do
  668. if two things are the case:
    first of all,
  669. if the text just seems real.
  670. In other words,
    if there's no spin on reality,
  671. if there's no sense of this
    being a fictive world,
  672. if it just seems to be about
    the everyday,
  673. about life as we live it,
    the life that we find ourselves
  674. in--
    then according to Iser,
  675. at least, there's no violation
    of expectations.
  676. The gap isn't big enough.
  677. This is, of course, disputable.
  678. There is a kind of a vogue
    recurrently in the history of
  679. fiction for a kind of miraculous
    sense that this is just exactly
  680. the way things are.
  681. People enjoy that in ways that
    Iser may not be fully
  682. acknowledging in this argument,
    but there's no question that it
  683. doesn't involve the violation of
    expectations.
  684. There's not much gap at all.
  685. It's another kind of pleasure
    that Iser is perhaps not taking
  686. into account that we take in
    that which seems to be simply
  687. incontestably real as we read
    it,
  688. and Iser leaves that out of
    account.
  689. On the other hand,
    he says that there is no use
  690. either,
    no value either,
  691. in that form of engagement with
    a text in which an illusion is
  692. perpetually sustained.
  693. In other words,
    an illusion is created;
  694. a never-never land is created.
  695. We know it's an illusion,
    but we get to live in it so
  696. comfortably with so little
    alteration of the nature of the
  697. illusion or of the way in which
    we negotiate the illusory world,
  698. that it becomes kind of
    womb-like and cozy.
  699. Here of course,
    Iser is referring to what he
  700. calls "culinary
    fiction,"
  701. the sub-genres of literature
    like,
  702. well, nurse novels,
    bodice-rippers,
  703. certain kinds of detective
    fiction--
  704. although a lot of detective
    fiction is much better than that
  705. description would imply:
    in other words,
  706. novels in which undoubtedly
    it's an illusory world.
  707. Things just don't happen the
    way they happen in nurse novels
  708. and bodice-rippers--in which
    somehow or another the pauper
  709. marries the prince.
  710. This doesn't happen,
    but at the same time it's a
  711. world of illusion in which the
    reader lives all too
  712. comfortably.
  713. Right?
  714. So these are forms of the
    experience of reading fiction of
  715. which Iser disapproves because
    there's no work being done.
  716. The virtual work of the reader
    does not involve surprise,
  717. does not involve the violation
    of expectations.
  718. The relationship between text
    and reader must be a
  719. collaboration,
    Iser argues.
  720. The poly-semantic nature of the
    text--
  721. that is to say,
    the fact that the text sort of
  722. throws up all sorts of
    possibilities of meaning if it's
  723. a good text--
    >
  724. and the illusion making of the
    reader are opposed factors.
  725. In other words,
    there is something in the
  726. reader that wants to settle
    comfortably into the world of
  727. the nurse novel,
    the bodice-ripper,
  728. the formulaic detective novel--
    that wants just to sort of
  729. exist comfortably in those
    worlds;
  730. but a good text is perpetually
    bringing the reader up short and
  731. preventing that comfort zone
    from establishing itself,
  732. so that the tension between the
    tendency on our part to sustain
  733. an illusion and the way in which
    the text keeps undermining the
  734. illusion is again that aspect of
    the psychological excitement of
  735. reading that Iser wants to
    concentrate on.
  736. Now a word about Tony the
    Tow Truck in this regard.
  737. I brought the text with me.
  738. You can look at it now or at
    your leisure.
  739. I wanted to call attention to a
    few places in the text in which
  740. it is a question of expectation
    and of the way in which this
  741. expectation can be violated.
  742. Now it's only fair to say that
    if we're going to read Tony
  743. seriously in this way we
    have to put ourselves in the
  744. shoes of a toddler;
    that is to say,
  745. as readers or auditors we have
    to think of ourselves and of the
  746. psychological excitement of
    experiencing the text as that of
  747. a toddler.
  748. It's not so very difficult to
    do.
  749. For example:
    I am Tony the Tow Truck.
  750. I live in a little yellow
    garage.
  751. I help cars that are stuck.
  752. I tow them to my garage.
  753. I like my job.
  754. One day I am stuck.
  755. Who will help Tony the tow
    truck?
  756. All right.
  757. Now this is a wonderful example
    of the tension between having
  758. expectations,
    the expectation that someone
  759. will help Tony,
    and being in a state of
  760. suspense, not knowing who it
    will be.
  761. Now from the adult point of
    view, this is culinary because
  762. we know that we're in the world
    of folklore and that in folklore
  763. everything happens three times.
  764. We know that two vehicles are
    going to come along and not help
  765. Tony and that the third vehicle
    will,
  766. because everything,
    as I say, happens in threes in
  767. folklore.
  768. Notice Tony the Tow
    Truck <
  769. consonants>>
  770. --next week when we read the
    Russian formalists,
  771. we will learn the research
    finding of one of the early
  772. formalists to the effect that
    "repetition in verse is
  773. analogous to tautology in
    folklore."
  774. We have exactly that
    >
  775. going on in Tony the Tow
    Truck,
  776. "t- t- t,"
    and then the three events,
  777. Neato the Car,
    Speedy the Car,
  778. and Bumpy the Car coming along
    in sequence,
  779. with Bumpy finally resolving
    the problem.
  780. So in any case we have an
    expectation.
  781. We have the dialectic of
    suspense on the one hand,
  782. how will this be resolved,
    and inevitability on the other,
  783. "Oh, it's a folk tale,
    it'll be resolved,
  784. don't worry about it."
  785. We have this suspense,
    as I say, between expectation,
  786. the possibility of violation,
    and simply not knowing.
  787. Okay.
  788. Now we continue:
    "I cannot help you,"
  789. says Neato the Car.
  790. "I don't want to get
    dirty"…
  791. "I cannot help you,"
    says Speedy the Car.
  792. "I am too
    busy"…
  793. I am very sad.
  794. Then a little car pulls up.
  795. I think it's wonderful because
    it "pulls up"
  796. just like Gadamer being
    "pulled up short,"
  797. and there is,
    it seems to me,
  798. there's another crisis of
    expectation in this line in that
  799. especially as a toddler I need
    to negotiate that expression
  800. idiomatically.
  801. I'm three years old.
  802. Maybe I don't know what
    "pulls up"
  803. means.
  804. It's probably not very good
    writing for a toddler precisely
  805. for that reason,
    but at the same time it lends
  806. itself to us because we
    recognize that there's a reading
  807. problem or a piece of virtual
    work that needs to be overcome
  808. before you can get on with it.
  809. You have to find out what
    "pulls up"
  810. means in the same way that the
    adult reader of Pleasures of
  811. the Imagination has to find
    out what "plastic"
  812. means.
  813. As I say, it's a wonderful
    irony that this particular
  814. difficulty in reading is
    precisely what Gadamer calls
  815. being pulled up short.
  816. All right.
  817. So you solve the problem and
    then, lo and behold,
  818. it turns out that:
    It is my friend Bumpy.
  819. Bumpy gives me a push.
  820. He pushes and pushes and-- I'm
    on my way.
  821. "Thank you,
    Bumpy,"
  822. I call back.
  823. "You're welcome,"
    says Bumpy.
  824. Now I think we get another
    expectation.
  825. This is the kind of story that
    has a moral.
  826. It's a feel-good story.
  827. Something good has happened.
  828. A sense of reciprocity is
    established between the tow
  829. truck and the person who helps
    the tow truck out of being
  830. stuck--
    a fine sense of reciprocity,
  831. so the expectation is that
    there will be a moral.
  832. The tension or suspense is:
    what will the moral be?
  833. There are a variety of ways,
    in other words,
  834. in which this story,
    just like The Rime of the
  835. Ancient Mariner,
    could end.
  836. It's by no means clear that
    The Rhyme of the Ancient
  837. Mariner will end with
    "Love all things,
  838. great and small things."
  839. It could have ended any number
    >
  840. of other ways,
    and just so this story could
  841. end a number of ways.
  842. It happens to end "Now
    that's what I call a
  843. friend."
  844. Well, fine.
  845. The moral is that reciprocity
    is friendship and so good,
  846. all to the good,
    but as I say there's a moment
  847. of suspense in the expectation
    at the point in the text when we
  848. expect a moral but we don't know
    what the moral is going to be.
  849. Once again, there is that
    moment of suspense that the
  850. reader is able to get through
    with a kind of pleasurable
  851. excitement and then overcome as
    the moral is actually revealed.
  852. So even Tony the Tow
    Truck, in other
  853. words,
    is not absolutely culinary and
  854. can be treated in ways that I
    hope shed some light on the
  855. reading process.
  856. All right.
  857. The time is up,
    so let me conclude by saying
  858. that if there is this
    remarkable distinction between
  859. Gadamer and Iser,
    between canons,
  860. where the methodology of
    Gadamer seems to impose on us a
  861. traditional canon and the
    methodology of Iser seems to
  862. impose on us an innovative
    canon,
  863. isn't there some relief in
    historicism after all--
  864. because the whole point of
    historicism,
  865. as Gadamer himself puts it,
    is that it lets the canon be?
  866. We're not interested in
    establishing a principle of
  867. value that shapes a canon.
  868. We're interested in hearing
    everybody on his or her own
  869. terms and letting those texts
    be.
  870. In other words,
    doesn't historicism open the
  871. canon and indeed make the
    process of reading,
  872. the experience of reading,
    archival and omnivorous rather
  873. than canonical?
  874. If every text just is what it
    is and we can't bring,
  875. methodologically speaking,
    any kind of preconception to
  876. bear on what's a good text or
    what's a bad text,
  877. haven't we solved the problem
    of the limitation imposed on the
  878. reader by any kind of canon
    formation?
  879. Well, that's the case only,
    I say in conclusion,
  880. if we can distinguish between
    meaning and significance.
  881. In other words,
    only if we really are sure that
  882. the historicist act of reading
    is effective and works,
  883. if I know the meaning of a
    text.
  884. Well, fine.
  885. Then later on,
    if I wish, I can establish a
  886. canon by saying certain texts
    have certain significance and
  887. those are the texts that I care
    about and want to read,
  888. but I can only do that if I can
    distinguish between meaning and
  889. significance.
  890. But if meaning and significance
    bleed into each other,
  891. what I'm going to be doing is
    establishing a canon,
  892. as it were, unconsciously or
    semiconsciously.
  893. I'm going to say, "Ah,
    this is just what the text
  894. means," but at the same
    time,
  895. I'll be finding ways,
    without realizing it,
  896. of affirming certain kinds of
    meaning and discrediting certain
  897. other kinds of meaning--
    all the while saying,
  898. "Oh, it's just meaning.
  899. I'm not doing that."
  900. But if in fact my reading
    practice can be shown not
  901. clearly to distinguish between
    meaning and significance,
  902. well, then that's what would
    happen.
  903. So it's still up in the air and
    it's still perhaps inescapable
  904. that we read,
    as it were, canonically,
  905. but by thinking of various
    approaches to hermeneutics in
  906. these terms,
    I think what's shown is that
  907. there is a relationship between
    methodology and canon formation,
  908. that certain things follow from
    our assumptions about how to
  909. read.
  910. Evaluation would seem rather at
    a distance removed from simple
  911. considerations of how to read,
    but in fact I think we've shown
  912. that evaluation is in one way or
    another implicit in certain
  913. methodological premises as they
    establish themselves in the work
  914. of these various writers.
  915. Okay.
  916. Thank you very much.