Saturday, July 30, 2005

Terry Eagleton

Terry Eagleton is a masteful literary critic and even though this is an old book it is still a great introduction to literary criticism. It is not that Eagleton has a great deal new to say to us today, the joy, however, is in how he says it. To get my blog started I will give you some samples of this fine work:

"The hallmark of the 'linguistic revolution' of the twentieth century, from Saussure and Wittgenstein to contemporary literary theory, is the recognition that meaning is not simply something 'expressed' or 'reflected' in language: it is actually produced by it. It is not as though we have meanings, or experiences, which we then proceed to cloak with words: we can only have the meanings and experiences in the first place because we have a language to have them in."

This is a very important philisophical starting point for any studies that purport to deal with texts. This of course has many ramifications for the notion of 'truth' and for the study of epistimology proper, but what I would like to tease out of this quote is the role of ideology in the interpretation of texts.

There is a notion that interpretation is like kenosis, you empty yourself of all your intrests and approach the text value free, and through painstaking study the meaning of the text comes out from hidding and reveals itself in all its magesty. But how does one go about this kenosis?

If ideologies constitute the ways in which what we say and believe connect to the powder-structures and power-relations of the society in which we live, then how can we ever hope to empty ourselves from them. Interests are part and parcel of who we are, or at least how we think. So is there such a thing as value free interpretation? Short answer no. Here is a story told by Clifford Gertz, that although the original context was interpretation, I think it works well for ideology too.

There is an Indian story--at least I heard it as an Indian story--about an Englishman who, having been told that the world rested on a platform which rested on the back of an elephant which rested in turn on the back of a turtle, asked ..., what did the turtle rest on? Another turtle. And that turtle? "Ah, Sahib, after that it is turtles all the way down.
It is ideology all the way down folks.


TheBlueRaja said...

It's probably important to note that this isn't such a bad thing --the fact that no interpretation is value neutral means neither that no interpretation is valid nor that every intepretation is equally praiseworthy, though these seem to be the only options left open to the reader by the ongoing warring religious debate about "postmodernism".

metalepsis said...

No your right it isn't necessarily a good or bad thing that ideology runs through all of our interpretations, it is I believe, however, the start of a charitable hermeneutics; a hermeneutics of humility.