The essays in this collection are concerned with the philosophical problems that arise in connection with the understanding and evaluation of literature - such problems as the relationship between the work and the author (authorial intention), between the work and the world (reference and truth), the definition of a literary work, and the nature of literary theory itself. Professor Olsen attacks many of the orthodoxies of modern literary theory, in particular the enterprise to build a comprehensive systematic literary theory. His (...) own work is informed by a consistent perspective: the assumption that literature is a social institution governed by conventions, and that answers to problems of interpretation and appreciation can be found only through an analysis of these conventions. This is an important book for scholars and students of literary theory and philosophy, especially for those who see an ever-increasing cross-fertilization between the two disciplines. (shrink)
The articles in this collection focus attention on the concept of literature and the concepts of a literary work and a literary text. Adopting an analytic approach, the articles attempt to clarify how these concepts govern our thinking about the phenomenon of literature in various ways, exploring the issues that arise when these concepts are employed as theoretical instruments for describing and analyzing the phenomenon of literature.
There is a class of critics who are dissatisfied with the academic status of literary criticism and who want to re-establish for literary criticism the status it possessed in the early and mid nineteenth century as simultaneously cultural and social criticism. This is an impossible task. The 'cultural critics' of the nineteenth century possessed their authority because they were without competition and because they could command the attention and respect of the whole of the literate audience. However, at the end (...) of the nineteenth century intellectual authority came to be based in specialised academic disciplines and individual authority was undermined and ultimately disappeared. At the same time, the arrival of universal literacy in Britain fragmented and ultimately destroyed the generally educated audience to which the cultural critics addressed themselves. Consequently there is today no role for the cultural critic. Literary critics cannot speak with authority about social, political, or cultural questions. They can, however, speak with authority about literature. Whether or not this criticism can be grounded in disciplinary knowledge, it serves a necessary function for an audience that no longer possesses the skill of reading literary works and lacks the background knowledge that is necessary to make sense of literature. (shrink)
This article explores the relationship between interpretation and what is normally called ‘understanding’. It is argued that different modes of interpretation define different kinds of ‘mental uptake’ (‘apprehension’), and that some modes of interpretation define types of apprehension for which the concept of ‘understanding’ is inadequate. It is also argued that given a mode of interpretation, the constraints of that mode are necessary in the sense that it is the constraints on how to interpret that define a mode of interpretation. (...) Thus within a mode of interpretation (historical, literary) one cannot interpret freely. Indeed, unconstrained interpretation is not interpretation. In order to illustrate these points the article offers a detailed discussion of two examples. The interpretative debate over the Magna Carta is used to illustrate the difference between a constitutional and a historical interpretation. These two modes of interpretation are then contrasted with literary interpretation, the aim of which is appreciation. (shrink)
This is a paperback edition of what has become an important contribution to aesthetics and the theory of literature. The author analyses in detail how the reader responds to literature and how he begins to evaluate it. Mr Olsen characterizes literature as an institution and thus forges links with contemporary philosophy which sees all human action as ordered and defined by social institutions.
In Euripides' Hippolytus , Phaedra, wife of Theseus, king of Athens, falls in love with the unsuspecting Hippolytus, Theseus' son by the amazon Antiope. Phaedra's passion is the work of the goddess Aphrodite, who wants to revenge herself on Hippolytus because he has rejected her and devoted himself to the chaste Artemis. Through Paedra's nurse Hippolytus is made aware of her love and invited to her bed. He emphatically rejects her offer and violently abuses Phaedra and her nurse. To save (...) her honour Phaedra commits suicide and leaves a note accusing Hippolytus of raping her. Theseus, confronted on his return from an expedition with the suicide and the note, banishes Hippolytus and prays to his father, the seagod Poseidon, to fulfil one of the three wishes he has granted him and kill Hippolytus. Leaving Troezen, Hippolytus is killed when his horses are frightened by a monster thrown on shore by Poseidon from a giant wave. Theseus is brought to realize his mistake by the goddess Artemis who appears to him and reveals the truth. The play ends with the reconciliation of Theseus and the dying Hippolytus. This, in bare outline, is what happens in the play. It is what might be called its subject. The play is about these events and characters. Now it is also possible to give another type of description of Euripides' play. For the play does not merely have a subject but also a theme. While it is straightforward and unproblematic to give a description of the subject of the play a statement of its theme presents difficulties. The subject is, in an obvious sense, given for any competent speaker of the language in which the work is written. The theme, on the other hand, emerges from the subject in conjunction with other features of the work, and it emerges through the reader's constructive labour. There is no theme for the reader who is unwilling or unable to engage in this constructive labour. (shrink)
This anthology provides comprehensive coverage of the major contributions of analytic philosophy to aesthetics and the philosophy of art, from the earliest beginnings in the 1950’s to the present time. Traces the contributions of the analytic tradition to aesthetics and the philosophy of art, from the 1950’s to the present time. Designed as a comprehensive guide to the field, it presents the most often-cited papers that students and researchers encounter. Addresses a wide range of topics, including identifying art, ontology, intention (...) and interpretation, values of art, aesthetic properties, fictionality, and the aesthetics of nature. Explores particular art forms, including pictorial art, literature, music, and the popular arts. (shrink)