Validity in Interpretation

ISBN-10: 0300016921

ISBN-13: 9780300016925

Edition: 1967

Authors: E. D. Hirsch
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Description: By demonstrating the uniformity and universality of the principles of valid interpretation of verbal texts of any sort, this closely reasoned examination provides a theoretical foundation for a discipline that is fundamental to virtually all humanistic studies. It defines the grounds on which textual interpretation can claim to establish objective knowledge, defends that claim against such skeptical attitudes as historicism and psychologism, and shows that many confusions can be avoided if the distinctions between meaning and significance, interpretation and criticism are correctly understood. It provides perhaps the first genuinely comprehensive account of hermeneutic theory to appear in English and the first systematic presentation of the principles of valid interpretation in any language.Mr. Hirsch, associate professor of English at the University of Virginia, is the author ofWordsworth and SchellingandInnocence and Experience: An Introduction to Blake. “Here is a book that brings logic to the most unruly of disciplines, literary interpretation. Viewing this subject within the tradition of hermeneutics, Mr. Hirsch is able to trace its origins and development with brilliant insight.  The result is a lucidly systemic and authoritative account of the premises and procedures applicable to the interpretation of a literary text.  Mr. Hirsch has performed a monumental service thereby that of reinstating the credentials of objectivism and defining the limits of the aesthetics of truth.  This study is a necessary took for anyone who wants to talk sense about literature.”—Virginia Quarterly Review“Professor Hirsch demonstrates convincingly that objectivity is attainable in humane studies, and that it is not identified with the subject but with the evidence. A valid interpretation is not necessarily a correct one, but one which is more probably than any other on the basis of existing evidence.  He makes a subtle and important distinction between a text’s ‘meaning’ (which does not change) and its ‘significance’ (which does), and brilliantly relates meaning to understanding (the necessary preliminary to interpretation) and interpretation to explanation…” In short, this is a work which future students of literary theory cannot afford to neglect.”—Notes and QueriesE.D. Hirsch, Jr., is professor of English at the University of Virginia.

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Book details

List price: $28.00
Copyright year: 1967
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 9/10/1973
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 302
Size: 5.25" wide x 8.25" long x 1.00" tall
Weight: 0.836
Language: English

Hirsch is a conservative critic best known for his repudiation of critical approaches to literature (chiefly poststructuralism and New Criticism) that assume that the author's intentions do not determine readings. He argues that any such methodology is guilty of "the organic fallacy," the belief that the text leads a life of its own. For Hirsch, the author's authority is the key to literary interpretation: The critic's job is to reproduce textual meaning by recovering the author's consciousness, which guarantees the validity of an interpretation. In his two most important books, Validity in Interpretation (1967) and its sequel, The Aims of Interpretation (1976), Hirsch warns against the "critical anarchy" that follows from the "cognitive atheism" of both relativism and subjectivism. For him, these result from a corollary of the organic fallacy, the thesis that meaning is ultimately indeterminate because it changes over time or with the differing interests and values of different readers. According to Hirsch, meaning does not change; only value or significance does, as readers relate a text's fixed meaning to their cultures. If there is more than one valid interpretation of a text, it is because literature may be reduced to more than one "intrinsic genre" or meaning type---the particular set of conventions governing ways of seeing and of making meaning at the time the author was writing. Many critics suggest that the intentions Hirsch recovers in intrinsic genres are really his own, rather than those of the author, because no one, including Hirsch, can escape his or her historically conditioned frame of reference when developing interpretations of literature. Hirsch's recent books, including Cultural Literacy (1987), are seen as proof of those flaws by those who are troubled by the history and values of the dominant culture that Hirsch insists is the only culture. Hirsch argues that "common knowledge" is being denied minority students and others by feminists and other "radicals" who have undermined the authority of its great texts.

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