By Charles Altieri

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Extra resources for Act and Quality A Theory of Literary Meaning and Humanistic Understanding

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My concern for criteria of representativeness and consistency leads to one feature of this book (or, at least, one I am aware of) which many readers will find disturbing. I rarely discuss literary texts and I offer only one extended literary discussion. My aim is not to provide new ways of reading, to display my own sensibility, or even to celebrate literary texts. All are valid enterprises, but all distract from what I consider the goals of theory. I want to explain what is essential to the reading suggested by the canon I propose as common, so I shall simply assume that the few examples I give indicate how I read and suffice as a test of concrete agreements.

This book is motivated by a sense of urgency that looks somewhat ridiculous in retrospect, and that always appears to me difficult to reconcile with the philosopher's ideal of disclosing timeless truths. Yet by insisting on contrast as the vehicle for such urgency, I can at least hope that the resulting disputes will clarify perennial issues and test fundamental strategies for resolving them. 2. My General Criticism of Contemporary Theories and an Outline of My Argument A brief indulgence in this contrastive method should prove helpful now for two basic tasks.

One might argue that Chomsky invites the recent critiques of his emphasis on syntax, because his fidelity to a rationalist explanatory model severely limits the descriptive facts he can thoroughly consider. Examples like this, and the strong sense I give to explanation, account in large part for my ignoring the hermeneutic claims of Marx and Freud. Their forms of descriptions depend on large explanatory claims which I distrust, because I see no way of testing them as systematic arguments. One can, of course, use their work as guides to problems one must consider, but this is true of any good imaginative work and does not constitute grounds for hermeneutic theory.

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