Sunday, May 1, 2011

Against Theory

"You will either be ascribing these marks to some agent capable of intentions (the living sea, the haunting Wordsworth, etc.), or you will count them as nonintentional effects of mechanical processes (erosion, percolation, etc.). But in the second case--where the marks now seem to be accidents--will they still seem to be words?

Clearly not. They will merely seem to resemble words."

Knapp, Steven and Walter Benn Michaels. “Against Theory.” Critical Inquiry 8.4 JSTOR (1982) 728. Web. 1 May 2011.

I take issue with Knapp and Michaels' reasoning here. In their example of the wave poem, they state that if a person accepts that the wave poem was created spontaneously in nature, then the person observing the poem will believe the words have no meaning. "Will they still seem to be words? Clearly not." The statement is actually not so "clear." Poem can still be found within the words of the poem--in fact, the viewer could find inspiration in the words for a poem of his or her own. What is at stake by discovering the lack of agency in the poem's creation is the viewer's motivation to discover meaning, not an inherent lack of meaning. The article makes a large leap here that seems fallacious, though it makes several other credible points.

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