Rehabilitating Reference: Charles Altieri's "Presence and Reference in a Literary Text"

Critical Inquiry 6 (2):343-345 (1979)

Like many readers, I sympathize with Charles Altieri's attempt in "Presence and Reference in a Literary Text"1 to correct Derrida's assimilation of poetry to linguistic "freeplay without origin." But Altieri's "middle ground" solution is at best a stopgap measure, delaying the deconstructionist project but not finally answering it. Altieri agrees with Derrida that "language is not primarily a set of pictures ideally mirroring a world" . But he resists the conclusion that for Derrida follows from this premise, namely, that poems are consequently self-referential and antimimetic. Instead Altieri adopts a position between these two extremes, seeing in art the representation not of reality but of the "stances" we take toward our world. Poems reveal "the qualities of human actions" . In "This is Just to Say," for example, Williams constructs a "simple drama" which brings to light a speaker's "honesty, self-knowledge, and faith in his wife's understanding" . · 1. Charles Altieri, "Presence and Reference in a Literary Text: The Example of Williams' 'This is Just to Say,'" Critical Inquiry 5 : 489-510; all further references to this article will be included in this text. Michael Fischer is an assistant professor of English at the University of New Mexico. He has written on nineteenth- and twentieth-century modern critical theory and on the defense of poetry in modern criticism
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DOI 10.1086/448051
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