Truth and Consequences

Intentions, Conventions, and the New Thematics

By (author) Reed Way Dasenbrock

Paperback - £33.95

Publication date:

15 January 2001

Length of book:

352 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271020419

Contemporary literary theory takes truth and meaning to be dependent on shared conventions in a community of discourse and views authors’ intentions as irrelevant to interpretation. This view, argues Reed Way Dasenbrock, owes much to Anglo-American analytic philosophy as developed in the 1950s and 1960s by such thinkers as Austin and Kuhn, but it ignores more recent work by philosophers like Davidson and Putnam, who have mounted a counterattack on this earlier conventionalism.

This book draws on current analytic philosophy to resuscitate the notion of objective truth and intentionalist models of meaning and interpretation, thereby moving beyond the antifoundationalism of postmodern theory. It addresses the work of Rorty and Fish as representative of literary conventionalism, discusses the futility of Derrida’s anti-intentionalism, and shows how poststructuralist thinkers like Althusser and Foucault have contributed to the "new thematics" of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation that dominates literary theory today. Examining the counter-arguments of conventionalists to have their theory judged by its consequences, Dasenbrock shows how damaging this antiobjectivism and anti-intentionalism have been for literary studies.

“I think Dasenbrock is exactly right in claiming that poststructuralist conventionalism has become the reigning metaphysics of contemporary criticism. [His diagnoses of the consequences of conventionalism are astute, and his suggestions for alternative intentionalist directions in criticism should provoke a lot of discussion.] Dasenbrock manages to treat difficult material in a clear, concise, and jargon-free manner. Although there are other books critical of the poststructuralist paradigm, I know of no other which grounds its criticism on such a firm philosophical foundation or is so thoroughgoing in its assessment of poststructuralist assumptions. [Because it is concerned with the guiding assumptions of the discipline of literary criticism,] I think that it should appeal to a fairly wide audience, one that includes scholars with diverse disciplinary specialties and that perhaps extends to other humanities disciplines where literary criticism has been influential.”

—Allen Dunn, University of Tennessee