For my money, Prufer isn’t so much making use of Jones/Bunting modernist tropes as he is adopting the icy unnaming of Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” – a short story effective not for so much for showing the universality of the war experience as for making it come alive through specific and telling individual detail. And isn’t the Unknown Soldier synechdoche rather than metonymy for all the unknown dead? [wink]
Michael Peverett pointed out last week, in connection with my note on Rosmarie Waldrop’s Reluctant Gravities, that an extract from that book can be found online; he also reminds us that Waldrop’s book of critical essays, Dissonance (if you are interested) is out from the University of Alabama Press, by far the most prestigious venue for new studies on modern & contemporary poetics (nudge nudge, wink wink!). He also responds to my brief note on Margaret Talbott in the New Yorker, where she claims that “in science – as opposed to, say, literary criticism – interpretations can be wrong” (my italics). I responded with an instance of a howling misreading in a performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream. Michael comments:
I am not so sure about your example from MND. This is a misunderstanding of 16th-century English and yes it is wrong. MT obviously doesn't have this in mind when she talks of "interpretations"... My own view is that value placed on an artefact cannot be wrong (or right), but leaving value aside there is many a true and false statement that may be made about an artefact - the leaves in the painting are really green not blue, for example, or Christ's rib-cage is short of a rib.Okay, yes, Talbot doesn’t mean the sort of “interpretation” that involves knowing what a word or sentence means, or how it ought to be inflected in performance – in fact she doesn’t mean “interpretation” at all when she talks about literary criticism, she means evaluative judgement, as Michael alludes to a bit later. What she’s saying in short is “science deals with stuff that can be right or wrong, but literary criticism is all a matter of taste, de gustibus & so forth.” Now I think think that there’s more than just a coincidence of names between “interpreting” a work of literature by writing an essay or commentary on it and “interpreting” it on stage (for a play) or in a public reading (for a poem or story). (We see the distinction much more clearly in music, where “interpretation” almost always means performance, while what musical scholars do is “analysis” or “commentary.”) But whether one takes what Talbot says as a vague remark about what literary critics in the New Yorker generally do, or as a general impression of interpreting literature is all about, her words have the effect of setting literary studies back a century or more – which is where I suppose most New Yorker readers would like it to be.