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Text and Culture

The Politics of Interpretation

1989
Author:

Daniel Cottom

Text and Culture

An examination of the political aspects of contemporary disciplines of interpretation, which illustrates how interpretation may be turned into a more socially responsible practice. Includes an extensive analysis of Dickens's Great Expectations.

An examination of the political aspects of contemporary disciplines of interpretation, which illustrates how interpretation may be turned into a more socially responsible practice. Includes an extensive analysis of Dickens's Great Expectations.

In Text & Culture, Daniel Cottom examines the political aspects of contemporary disciplines of interpretation. He pleads against limiting the act of reading by disqualifying some readings as “wrong” or unscholarly, and he argues for the necessity of multiple readings, claiming that a closed-off text glosses over differences that are political in nature. He proceeds, then, from the notion of text to culture. Just as the reading of the text is conditioned by irreducible political differences, so is the reading of culture. Finally, to illustrate and further develop his arguments, Cottom presents an extensive analysis of Great Expectations.

Cottom’s materials range from academic jokes to King Lear, and the writers he discusses range from Kant to Derrida, from Freud to Basil Bernstein, from Ludwig Wittgenstein and Bronislaw Malinowski to Erving Goffman, Clifford Geertz, and Stanley Fish. This study is especially concerned with the way “culture” and related terms, such as “context” and “norm,” are part of a larger discourse in the contemporary humanities and social sciences - a discourse in which their effect is to repress recognition of important historical differences, conflicts, and possibilities. At the same time that he shows how difficult it is to get “beyond culture,” he tries to indicate how interpretation may be turned into a more socially responsible practice.

Daniel Cottom is associate professor of English at the University of Florida. He is the author of Social Figures: George Eliot, Social History, and Literary Representation (Minnesota, 1987) and The Civilized Imagination: A Study of Ann Radcliffe, Jane Austen, and Sir Walter Scott.

Text and Culture

Daniel Cottom is a professor of English at the University of Oklahoma. He is the author of Social Figures: George Elliot, Social History, and Literary Representation (Minnesota, 1987) and The Civilized Imagination: A Study of Ann Radcliffe, Jane Austen, and Sir Walter Scott.

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