One More Time

Critical Inquiry 6 (4):749-751 (1980)

What I would add, and what Reichert seems unable to see, is that the facts of the text do not identify themselves. He faults Roskill for failing to see that coherence is not a function of the text but of "principles we bring to the text"; yet he himself does not see that the text, insofar as one can point to it, is produced by those same principles. Indeed, Reichert is continually doing the very thing for which he criticizes Roskill, attributing to the text qualities and features that are the product of interpretive strategies. Thus, for example, he cites the instance of "the interpreter . . . noticing something in the text that makes his former reading seem implausible" as evidence that the text is at some level independent of interpretation; but noticeability is a function of what it is possible to notice given a particular set of assumptions: a reader innocent of the principles of typology would be incapable of "noticing" a typological pattern, whereas for a reader like Madsen, the pattern will seem to announce itself; and a reader who "notices" something he didn't "notice" before is a reader who is proceeding within a different set of interpretive assumptions. That which is noticeable, in short, can never be the means of confirming or constraining interpretations because it is always a product of one. The same argument dissolves the distinction, invoked by Reichert, between extratextual and textual evidence; it is not that such a distinction is never in force but that what counts as internal and external evidence will vary according to the interpretive principles one espouses. Just what is and what is not extratextual is a matter of continual debate, and when the debate has been concluded, it is not because the matter has been settled by the facts but because one set of interpretive principles has won the right to say what the facts are. Stanley E. Fish is the author of, among other works, Is There a Text in This Class: The Sources of Interpretative Authority. His contributions to Critical Inquiry include "Facts and Fictions: A Reply to Ralph Rader" , "Interpreting the Variorum" , "Interpreting 'Interpreting the Variorum'" , "Normal Circumstances, Literal Language, Direct Speech Acts, the Ordinary, the Everyday, the Obvious, What Goes without Saying, and Other Special Cases" , and "A Reply to John Reichert; or, How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love Interpretation"
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DOI 10.1086/448082
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