By Charles Altieri
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Extra info for Act & quality: a theory of literary meaning and humanistic understanding
Such a goal should at least keep my analysis focussed on central, if not essential, problems. While my object is imaginary and idealized, it is not without plausible Page 17 and testable connections to the common understanding of a group of competent readers. I propose two measures for locating these readers, whose experience and judgment must be the arbiter of my claims. The first measure allows considerable empirical analysis. As I shall explain later when I discuss Chomsky, one can propose a literary analogy to semantic competence if one grants the power of society to authorize judges.
Consequently, not only is discourse indeterminate, but also it is impossible to state clearly the appropriate constituents of a discourse, especially the balance between signs of intention or act and textual properties on which coherent semantic analysis might be grounded. This insistence on instability and displacement gains a good deal of its force and plausibility because it participates in a second assumption deeply rooted in modernist thought. I refer to the dichotomy between referential and expressive or emotive discourse.
My view of meanings provides or integrates terms which allow us to describe the cognitive functions which literary texts serve, and, thus, it leads to at least one powerful social goal for literary criticism. I shall show how the performances in literary texts may exemplify attitudes which represent possible ways of acting or making judgments in ordinary experience. Texts afford knowledge not because they describe particulars but because they embody ways of experiencing facts. Their truth is one of possible labels, not of accurate propositions.