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From: "Jonathan Laidlow" <LAIDLOJM@hhs.bham.ac.uk>
Subject: (urth) readerly/writerly
Date: Thu, 16 Dec 1999 14:11:23 GMT

> > Just because we can't quantifiably have a 'correct' reading, it
> > doesn't necessarily follow that we can't distinguish between 'good'
> > and 'bad' readings.
> > This is superb! I don't suppose you could manage to appear at the sacred> windows 
of every high school english class in the land, could you? It would> eliminate a host of 

I agree too, but would add that it makes sense only within a community ofreaders that 
has decided on some criteria for 'good' and 'bad'. Crowley's _Little, Big_ is almost 
certainly not intended as Christian allegory, butif Jim Jordan enjoyed reading it that way, 
I wouldn't insist that his reading was 'bad,' particulary if he wasn't arguing that his was the 
only'right' way to read it.

Jonathan replied:

Intentions are a messy business - certainly multiple, and often unverifiable (even if GW 
were to tell us his intentions for BotNS they may not have been his changeable thoughts 
at the time of writing, or  his revised thoughts at the time of writing 'Otter'). If there is 
evidence in the text which Jim could marshall towards his argument then it would be what 
we might call a 'good' reading (as a community of fellow readers of the text). Yet a 
simple statement that it was a Christian allegory without supporting evidence might go 
some way towards a 'bad' reading. 

Using this argument we can 'contain multitudes' and accept each others variant readings 
as evidence of the slippery nature of linguistic units and their associated meanings.

There is of course the added problem of the nefarious 'context'. Those of my students 
who've tackled 18th century satire without a knowledge of its specific resonances and 
conventions during that period invariably come a-cropper when they try to introduce 
modern notions of satire. I heard a recent story about Germaine Greer's recent work on 
the 17th century author Aphra Behn, where she argues that Behn had problems getting 
into print because she was a woman. Brum's own expert on 17th century women's 
writing and the early print indsutry pointed out that all writers of the period had difficulty 
getting into print (in their relations with publishers), and the fact that she was a woman 
was, in this case at least, incidental.

In the case of my satirical students, they may well have written something interesting on 
the subject of satire, but it could not constitute a 'good' reading without some awareness 
of the nature of eighteenth-century satires.

Visit Ultan's Library - A Gene Wolfe web resource
Jonathan Laidlow
University of Birmingham, UK

*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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