Monday, April 11, 2016


Destruction Rather Than Deconstruction

Peter Green, "Juvenal Revisited," Classical Bearings: Interpreting Ancient History and Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989; rpt. 1998), pp. 240-255 (at 245; footnotes omitted):
My quasi-illicit exploration of the second and ninth satires, together with those parts of the sixth rejected by Duff, stimulated my curiosity in a way now highly unfashionable: it evoked the ghostly profile of a living human being, and made me want to find out more about him. In those innocent days no one had yet come forward to inform us, with peremptory assurance, that authorial intention was irrelevant, that the work was, literally, in the eye of the beholder, that critical reader-response and Rezeptionsgeschichte were what mattered, that judging the literary value of a poem or play in any abiding sense was a self-deluding mirage, that a menu or a seed catalogue could be deconstructed in just the same way as the Iliad, that the true creative artist was the translator, and that in any case the apparent 'character' of author or narrator must always be viewed as a mere literary mask, a persona, an artificial manipulation of traditional formalised topoi, i.e. rhetorical clichés. Juvenal ... has been no more immune than the next man to this kind of treatment. Though obviously useful to the extent of correcting excessive faith in what has been termed the 'biographical fallacy', this entire movement (I have to make clear from the start) strikes me as not only misconceived but positively dangerous, destruction rather than deconstruction, moral and aesthetic nihilism winding up in a literary cul-de-sac, fuelled by professional academic theorists with fond memories of the Sixties and a conscious or unconscious hatred of all creative art: intellectuals to whom the notions of absolute objective truth or sustainable moral value-judgments are, for a variety of ideological reasons, pure anathema. When I ask myself whether creator or interpreter is more important in the ultimate scheme of things (and never mind the attempt to gussy up the status of interpretation by giving it the pseudo-Hellenistic label of 'hermeneutics'), then I only have to ask myself which of the two could more easily survive without the other. Mistletoe needs oak; cuckoo must find nest: the parasite cannot exist apart from its involuntary host.

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