Literary and Linguistic Action: a case study in the interpretation of Shakespeare

When:14 Apr 2015, 12:30pm - 2pm
Venue:Morven Brown 310 (map ref C20)
Who:Max Rabie (Charles Sturt University)

Philosophy Seminar Series


In Shakespeare’s Language, Frank Kermode portrays Shakespeare as a show-off: an oftentimes self-indulgent author who could not restrain himself from exhibiting his talent for literary prowess. I have two goals in this paper: first, to refute Kermode’s portrait of Shakespeare; and second, within that context, to draw lessons about the relevance of the philosophy of language to literary interpretation. The case that I make against Kermode’s interpretation of Shakespeare presupposes a certain conception of human nature. I acknowledge this, and argue that it is a conception of human nature that is required in order to so much as have an interpretative debate at all. On this minimal conception, (a) we make sense of people as reflexive creatures that manifest their psychologies through goal-directed, planned behaviour, and (b) we take those psychologies to be narrative unities. I end by suggesting that this fact, and the fact that we can have meaningful disagreements about how to interpret a text, justifies an old and common-sense approach to literary theory. On this approach, understanding a text consists in identifying its author’s creative and expressive intentions. I use this to motivate a conception of literary interpretation that sees the enterprise as intimately tied to the philosophy of language. In particular, answering special interpretive problems about literary action requires answering more general problems about linguistic action.

About Max Rabie

Max Rabie received his PhD in philosophy from UNSW in 2014, and is currently teaching casually at Charles Sturt University. His dissertation was on the philosophy of language, and he is currently working on topics in the philosophy of language and literature.

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