I agree completely that there is never a "definitive" reading of a complex literary text.  In principle, that's true.  I disagree, however, that only a damned fool would think there is.  In practice, most of my students assume that there is such a reading, and most of them aren't damned fools.  They are simply not experienced enough in critical analysis or in self-awareness.  When a patient and more experienced instructor can lead them to see the complexities of the text, most of them find the discovery exciting and liberating.  (The issue gets more complicated when one is dealing with a text, such as biblical literature, over which a dogmatically-inclined body claims interpretative authority; but, except in the sad cases where dogma completely trumps a student's willingness to think critically, the resultant liberation can be even more satisfying for both student and teacher.)

Jerry Walsh

From: Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Sent: Thursday, September 15, 2011 10:09 AM
Subject: Re: OT: was Re: 'The Waste Land' - a recitation (was Re: vis-a-vis 'Four Quartets'): a PS

Probably there is no definitive reading of a cookbook recipe. But that really is of no relevance. Because there are certainly readings of any given text that only a damn fool would propound. I don't quite understand why anyone would think there was anything profound or even interesting in the statement that "There is no definitive reading of X." It's trivial and simply doesn't butter any parsnips. One-line readings of almost anything  but particularly of complex literary texts almost always belong to the catgory of readings which only a damn fool would annoy his/her company with.


On 9/14/2011 3:44 PM, Jerome Walsh wrote:


I missed that aspect of your remarks.  I think we're using "reading" in different senses.  You are using it in the entirely legitimate sense of "textual reading" (a la text criticism of ancient MSS).  In that sense, no, there is certainly no "definitive" reading of biblical texts.  In fact, the putative "original text" from which the variety of extant text forms would have descended is itself viewed as a problematic concept today.  More likely is that there was never a single original text of which all later MSS are (mis)copies, but a plurality of "original" (and unidentical) reductions to writing that have subsequently not only diverged through the influence of copyists but also have cross-pollinated one another by reciprocal influence.