What is literature? What does a literary critic do?
Rather than answer those questions, let’s wonder about some of our assumptions. We assume a text is a work of art when it takes special training to figure out what it means. In other words, literature is art because it says one thing and means something else.
A detective is also interested in signs that point away from themselves. Sometimes these signs are daily objects become clues or false leads, at other times, they are codes , literally written codes. Both Poe and Doyle have important works about codes and their deciphering.
- In The Gold Bug we have a major example of reading as decoding. Click HERE for the excerpt.
- In Doyle’s „The Adventure of the Dancing Men,“ Holmes follows Poe’s lead (without giving him credit, of course. Click HERE for the important excerpt.
How would we apply these cases to what we do when we interpret a text?
What about the readers of the newspaper in Colin Dexter’s The Way through the Woods. The poem that may or may not have been written by A. Austin, may or may not have been mailed to the newspaper by a killer or a young Swedish woman. And the poem itself (or the poem as sent by the killer) may or may not be clues leading to the location of the Swedish woman’s body.
Read the poem, the intepretations and categorize each intepretation according to its:
- explicit method
- implicit method
- underlying assumptions about:
- the writer of the poem
- the relation of the poet’s intention to the poem’s meaning
- theories of allusion and intertextuality.
Of the three text samples below, to return to the syllabus, click on the one written in a language whose name, when spelled out in English, is a palindrome. The others take you else where.