A Reply to John Reichert and Stanley Fish

Critical Inquiry 6 (2):355-357 (1979)

John Reichert and Stanley Fish, in their discussion of the finding of different "meanings" in Samson Agonistes,1 do not seem to recognize what is really in dispute between them. Certainly they step in to further confusions along the way. It is true that, as Fish reiterates, the "meaning" which is to be cumulatively grasped from a total work of art, such as a long dramatic poem or novel, is open in principle to unlimited divergencies of interpretation on the basis of either external facts that can be brought to bear on the work or hypotheses that can be counted or presented as potentially relevant. This is so not only because people differ in their understandings in a great variety of ways but also because the fundamental indeterminacy of language—as distinct from the ambiguity of particular statements2—is capable of being understood as such. · 1. John Reichert, "But That Was in Another Ball Park: A Reply to Stanley Fish," Critical Inquiry 6 : 164-72; Stanley E. Fish, "A Reply to John Reichert; or, How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love Interpretation," Critical Inquiry 6 : 173-78. Fish's original essay, "Normal Circumstances . . . and Other Special Cases," appeared in the Summer 1978 issue.· 2. See for this distinction my remarks in "On the Recognition and Identification of Objects in Paintings," Critical Inquiry 3 : 702. Mark Roskill, professor of art history at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, is the author of Van Gogh, Gauguin, and the Impressionist Circle, and What is Art History? He has contributed "On the Recognition and Identification of Objects in Paintings" to the Summer 1977 issue of Critical Inquiry
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DOI 10.1086/448053
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