Gale.Encyclopedia.Of.Literature.And.Criticism by Coyle, Carside, Peck

By Coyle, Carside, Peck

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There is no room here for a detailed account of this brilliant, quirky, at times problematic, but often superbly convincing and original book. Sufficient to say that it develops the following theses: (1) that ‘complex words’ can best be understood as containing verbal ‘equations’ (or structures of logico-semantic entailment) which condense whole arguments into a single key-word, or a sequence of such words in context: (2) that the best, most rewarding instances— like ‘wit’ and ‘sense’ in Pope’s Essay on Criticism, or ‘sense’ in a whole range of literary works, from Measure for Measure to The Prelude and Sense and Sensibility—will display an especially rich, complex, or problematical use of these semantic resources; and (3) that where the method comes up against 39 INTRODUCTION resistance—where the key-word in question proves wholly unamenable to any kind of logico-semantic analysis—then here we have a case of some irrational doctrine, some attempt to short-circuit the structures of intelligible sense and impose what amounts to a species of irrationalist (or merely ‘rhetorical’) truth-claim.

And it is 27 INTRODUCTION all the more important to bear these facts in mind at a time when Enlightenment values are again under attack, not only from the religiousfundamentalist quarter but also from various ‘postmodernist’ gurus who reject the whole legacy of critical reason as just another species of what Nietzche diagnosed as the willto-power masquerading as pure, disinterested truth (see Norris, 1988). g. ) in the hope that readers will have time and inclination to follow them up. This chapter is—as should be evident enough by now—no dispassionate survey of the current literary-critical scene but a polemical piece which interprets that scene to its own argumentative ends.

Five centuries of Jewish interpretative rationalism stood behind Spinoza; but he was addressing the problems of his own day, and saw that the confusion of meaning and truth might result in the suppression of religious liberty. His pious book seemed blasphemous in 1670, so powerful is the atavistic preference for truth over meaning. (p. 119) This is certainly one reason for Spinoza’s notoriety among Christian and Jewish believers alike. But when Kermode equates ‘truth’ with revealed religious 29 INTRODUCTION truth—God’s word vouchsafed to the elect through a species of privileged hermeneutic insight—he overlooks that other kind of truth that Spinoza regards as the highest object of all philosophical enquiry, and which offers the only reliable means to criticize erroneous habits of belief.

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