Cambridge School Contextualism[ edit ] Main article: Cambridge School intellectual history The Cambridge School of contextualist hermeneutics , a position most elaborated by Quentin Skinner , in the first instances distinguishes linguistic meaning from speech-acts: that is to say, things which the performance of an utterance does. Consider the following. Typically, the ceremony of marriage concludes upon the exchange of the utterance "I do". In such a case, to utter "I do" is not merely to report an internal disposition, but to perform an action, namely, to get married.
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Press, But it seems doubtful if this claim and most of its romantic corollaries are as yet subject to any widespread questioning. The present writers, in a short article entitled "Intention" for a Dictionary1 of literary criticism, raised the issue but were unable to pursue its implications at any length.
We argued that the design or intention of the author is neither available nor desirable as a standard for judging the success of a work of literary art, and it seems to us that this is a principle which goes deep into some differences in the history of critical attitudes. It is a principle which accepted or rejected points to the polar opposites of classical "imitation" and romantic expression.
It entails many specific truths about inspiration, authenticity, biography, literary history and scholarship, and about some trends of contemporary poetry, especially its allusiveness. We begin our discussion with a series of propositions summarized and abstracted to a degree where they seem to us axiomatic.
A poem does not come into existence by accident. The words of a poem, as Professor Stoll has remarked, come out of a head, not out of a bat. One must ask how a critic expects to get an answer to the question about intention. How is he to find out what the poet tried to do? If the poet succeeded in doing it, then the poem itself shows what he was trying to do. Judging a poem is like judging a pudding or a machine.
One demands that it work. It is only because an artifact works that we infer the intention of an artificer. Poetry is a feat of style by which a complex of meaning is handled all at once. Poetry succeeds because all or most of what is said or implied is relevant; what is irrevelant has been excluded, like lumps from pudding and "bugs" from machinery.
They are more abstract than poetry. The meaning of a poem may certainly be a personal one, in the sense that a poem expresses a personality or state of soul rather than a physical object like an apple. But even a short lyric poem is dramatic, the response of a speaker no matter how abstractly conceived to a situation no matter how universalized. We ought to impute the thoughts and attitudes of the poem immediately to the dramatic speaker, and if to the author at all, only by an act of biographical inference.
There is a sense in which an author, by revision, may better achieve his original intention. But it is a very abstract sense. He intended to write a better work, or a better work of a certain kind, and now has done it. But it follows that his former concrete intention was not his intention. For the man we were in search of was not the man we wanted. Our view is yet different. The poem belongs to the public. It is embodied in language, the peculiar possession of the public, and it is about the human being, an object of public knowledge.
What is said about the poem is subject to the same scrutiny as any statement in linguistics or in the general science of psychology.
A critic of our Dictionary article, Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, has argued3 that there are two kinds of inquiry about a work of art: 1 whether the artist achieved his intentions; 2 whether the work of art "ought ever to have been undertaken 5 at all" and so "whether it is worth preserving. But we maintain that 2 need not be moral criticism: that there is another way of deciding whether works of art are worth preserving and whether, in a sense, they "ought" to have been undertaken, and this is the way of objective criticism of works of art as such, the way which enables us to distinguish between a skillful murder and a skillful poem.
A skillful murder is an example which Coomaraswamy uses, and in his system the difference between the murder and the poem is simply a "moral" one, not an "artistic" one, since each if carried out according to plan is "artistically" successful. We maintain that 2 is an inquiry of more worth than 1 , and since 2 and not 1 is capable of distinguishing poetry from murder, the name "artistic criticism" is properly given to 2. II It is not so much a historical statement as a definition to say that the intentional fallacy is a romantic one.
When a rhetorician of the first century A. One may wish to argue whether Longinus should be called romantic, but there can hardly be a doubt that in one important way he is. Was his plan reasonable and sensible, and how far did he succeed in carrying it out? Historical interpretation labours. I went to the poets; tragic, dithyrambic, and all sorts I took them some of the most elaborate passages in their own writings, and asked what was the meaning of them.
Will you believe me? Then I knew that not by wisdom do poets write poetry, but by a sort of genius and inspiration. Certainly the poets have had something to say that the critic and professor could not say; their message has been more exciting: that poetry should come as naturally as leaves to a tree, that poetry is the lava of the imagination, or that it is emotion recollected in tranquillity.
But it is necessary that we realize the character and authority of such testimony. There 7 is only a fine shade of difference between such expressions and a kind of earnest advice that authors often give. Know thyself; 2dly, Reverence thyself. This is the grand secret for finding readers and retaining them: let him who would move and convince others, be first moved and convinced himself. To every poet, to every writer, we might say: Be true, if you would be believed.
And further, all beauty is in the long run only fineness of truth, or what we call expression, the finer accommodation of speech to that vision within. As I went along, thinking of nothing in particular, only looking at things around me and following the progress of the seasons, there would flow into my mind, with sudden and unaccountable emotion, sometimes a line or two of verse, sometimes a whole stanza at once.
This is the logical terminus of the series already quoted. It is probably true that all this is excellent advice for poets. The young imagination fired by Wordsworth and Carlyle is probably closer to the verge of producing a poem than the mind 8 of the student who has been sobered by Aristotle or Richards. The art of inspiring poets, or at least of inciting something like poetry in young persons, has probably gone further in our day than ever before. Books of creative writing such as those issued from the Lincoln School are interesting evidence of what a child can do.
Coleridge and Arnold were better critics than most poets have been, and if the critical tendency dried up the poetry in Arnold and perhaps in Coleridge, it is not inconsistent with our argument, which is that judgment of poems is different from the art of producing them. Coleridge has given us the classic "anodyne" story, and tells what he can about the genesis of a poem which he calls a "psychological curiosity," but his definitions of poetry and of the poetic quality "imagination" are to be found elsewhere and in quite other terms.
But this is not so. The artist corrects the objectification when it is not adequate. But this may mean that the earlier attempt was not successful in objectifying the self, or "it may also mean that it was a successful objectification of a self which, when it confronted us clearly, we disowned and repudiated in favor of another. Professor Ducasse does not say. Whatever it may be, however, this standard is an element in the definition of art which will not 9 reduce to terms of objectification.
The evaluation of the work of art remains public; the work is measured against something outside the author. IV There is criticism of poetry and there is author psychology, which when applied to the present or future takes the form of inspirational promotion; but author psychology can be historical too, and then we have literary biography, a legitimate and attractive study in itself, one approach, as Professor Tillyard would argue, to personality, the poem being only a parallel approach.
Certainly it need not be with a derogatory purpose that one points out personal studies, as distinct from poetic studies, in the realm of literary scholarship. Yet there is danger of confusing personal and poetic studies; and there is the fault of writing the personal as if it were poetic.
There is a difference between internal and external evidence for the meaning of a poem. There is 3 an intermediate kind of evidence about the character of the author or about private or semiprivate meanings attached to words or topics by an author or by a coterie of which he is a member.
The meaning of words is the history of words, and the biography of an author, his use of a word, and the associations which the word had for him, are part of the words history and meaning. The use of biographical evidence need not involve intentionalism, because while it may be evidence of what the author intended, it may also be evidence of the meaning of his words and the dramatic character of his utterance.
On the other hand, it may not be all this. And a critic who is concerned with evidence of type 1 and moderately with that of type 3 will in the long run produce a different sort of comment from that of the critic who is concerned with 2 and with 3 where it shades into 2. And it would seem that there is nothing haphazard or fortuitous in their return. If there was nothing "haphazard or fortuitous" in the way the images returned to the surface, that may mean 1 that Coleridge could not produce what he did not have, that he was limited in his creation by what he had read or otherwise experienced, or 2 that having received certain clusters of associations, he was bound to return them in just the way he did, and that the value of the poem may be described in terms of the experiences on which he had to draw.
The latter pair of propositions a sort of Hartleyan associationism which Coleridge himself repudiated in the Biographia may not be assented to. There were certainly other combinations, other poems, worse or better, that might have been written by men who had read Bartram and Purchas and Bruce and Milton.
In certain flourishes such as the sentence we have quoted and in chapter headings like "The Shaping Spirit," "The Magical Synthesis," "Imagination 11 Creatrix," it may be that Professor Lowes pretends to say more about the actual poems than he does. Ins Unbetretene. Perhaps a person who has read Bartrarn appreciates the poem more than one who has not.
Or, by looking up the vocabulary of "Kubla Khan" in the Oxford English Dictionary, or by reading some of the other books there quoted, a person may know the poem better. But it would seem to pertain little to the poem to know that Coleridge had read Bartram. There is a gross body of life, of sensory and mental experience, which lies behind and in some sense causes every poem, but can never be and need not be known in the verbal and hence intellectual composition which is the poem.
The poet must exhort his love to quietness and calm upon his departure; and for this purpose the figure based upon the latter motion trepidation , long absorbed into the traditional astronomy, fittingly suggests the tension of the moment without arousing the harmes and feares" implicit in the figure of the moving earth. The argument is plausible and rests on a well substantiated thesis that Donne was deeply interested in the new astronomy and its repercussions in the theological realm.
In The First Anniversary he says the "new philosophy calls all in doubt. There is no reason why Donne might not have written a stanza in which the two kinds of celestial motion stood for two sorts of emotion at parting. And if we become full of astronomical ideas and see Donne only against the background of the new science, we may believe that he did.
But the text itself remains to be dealt with, the analyzable vehicle of a complicated metaphor. To make the geocentric and heliocentric antithesis the core of the metaphor is to disregard the English language, to prefer private evidence to public, external to internal.
V If the distinction between kinds of evidence has implications for the historical critic, it has them no less for the contemporary poet and his critic. Or, since every rule for a poet is but another side of a judgment by a critic, and since the past is the realm of the scholar and critic, and the future and present that of the poet and the critical leaders of taste, we may say that the problems arising in literary scholarship from the intentional fallacy are matched by others which arise in the world of progressive experiment.
The question of "allusiveness," for example, as acutely posed by the poetry of Eliot, is certainly one where a false judgment is likely to involve the intentional fallacy. The stand taken by F. Matthiessen is a sound one and partially forestalls the difficulty. But sometimes we find allusions supported by notes, and it is a nice question whether the notes function more as guides to send us where we may be educated, or more as indications in themselves about the character of the allusions.
Allusions to Dante, Webster, Marvell, or Baudelaire doubtless gain something because these writers existed, but it is doubtful whether the same can be said for an allusion to an obscure Elizabethan: The sound of horns and motors, which shall bring Sweeney to Mrs. Porter in the spring.
The Intentional Fallacy: Summary & Concept