Literary Fictions as Utterances and Artworks

Theoria 46 (1):68-80 (2010)
During the last decades, there has been a debate on the question whether literary works are utterances, or have utterance meaning, and whether it is reasonable to approach them as such. Proponents of the utterance model in literary interpretation, whom I will refer to as ‘utterance theorists,’ such as Noël Carroll and especially Robert Stecker, suggest that because of their nature as linguistic products of intentional human action, literary works are utterances similar to those used in everyday discourse. Conversely, those whom I will refer to as ‘appreciation theorists,’ such as Stein Haugom Olsen and Peter Lamarque, argue that literary works are by no means comparable to conversational utterances, and treating them in terms of utterances mistakenly dismisses their literary features. The aim of this essay is twofold: to defend a central aspect of the utterance theory and to reconcile the two main positions about central issues in the debate on the meaning of literary works. On the one hand, I shall argue that it is both legitimate and reasonable to discuss the utterance meaning of a literary work on the basis of an interpretative approach interested in the author’s “message.” My aim is to show that literary works should be considered utterances in a conversational approach which aims at examining the illocutionary actions conveyed through the work. On the other hand, I attempt to show both that there are various legitimate interpretative approaches which are governed by the interpreter’s purposes and to suggest that the debate between utterance theorists and appreciation theorists is actually about merely different emphases.
Keywords literature  fiction  meaning  utterance  interpretation  appreciation  understanding
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DOI 10.1111/j.1755-2567.2009.01051.x
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Berys Gaut (1998). The Ethical Criticism of Art. In Jerrold Levinson (ed.), Aesthetics and Ethics: Essays at the Intersection. Cambridge University Press 182--203.

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