finality of judgement, moreover, and one critic's findings can be undone by another'singenuity. Much more damaging, the premises even of literary theory have beenuprooted by radical theory.
Purposes of Theory
What does literary criticism hope to achieve? There are many schools of thought,
but all take as their starting point the analysis of the reader's or listener's response.Poems may be complex, requiring a good deal of explanation or even correction of corrupt scripts, but there has to be an immediate impact of some sort: not verystrong, and not blatantly emotional necessarily, but something that allows the critic toask: how is this obtained? how significant is it? how does it compare with similarworks? No impact and there is nothing to analyze. The work has failed, at least wherethat particular reader is concerned, and no amount of critical cleverness, literaryallusions and information will bully him into responding to what he cannot feel.But who is the reader? Each and everyone, as Stanley Fish might claim
, orMilton's "select audience though few"? Poets may not make money but they still havemarkets to consider. Whom are they writing for ² the editors of leading magazines,friends, society at large, or themselves? And to say something significant about theworld around them, to resolve personal quandaries, to gain a literary reputation withthose who count? In an ideal world all aims might be served by the one work, but theworld is not ideal, and aims needed to be sorted out.It is the original intention or purpose of writing, that much historical and sociologicalanalysis attempts to understand. In Shakespeare or Chaucer, and much more so inthe poetry of ancient Greece or China, there are different conventions to appreciate,and many words cannot be fully translated.
The difficulties afflict more than theprofessional translator or literary scholar, as modern poetry very much usesrecherché imagery and far-flung allusion. A simple word like "faith" would be verydifferently appreciated in the church-going communities of small-town America andthe Nietzsche-reading intelligentsia of London's Hampstead. The meaning, the literalmeaning of the poem, might be the same but not the insights that gave the poem itsreal subject matter.