He did. He took us line by line and word by word through Plato, Descartes and Hume, an intense, detailed kind of reading that I had never known before. We mapped paragraphs for section breaks, searching for transitions that indicated a shift in thought. And, in doing so, he made sure we never forgot the author, who was the wellspring of the text, the place from which it flowed. Meaning, in Dr. Talbot’s view, piggybacked on words, which piggybacked on the author. The three were inextricably linked.
Today, most in higher education would sneer Dr. Talbot’s views, and that distain seems to have filtered down into the populace at large. Consider a recent paean to eisegesis by Bryn Neuenschwander (who goes under the pseudonym Marie Brennan). Excerpts:
I was talking about this recently with some friends, in the context of the type of story with an element that might or might not be fantasy. Me? I say screw the hedging and the ambiguity; I read that type of story as fantasy, and I do so willfully. If the end of the story comes down on the side of reality, making that fantastical element psychological or symbolic or whatever . . . thanks, but I’ll stick with my own interpretation.Read the whole thing at Science Fiction & Fantasy Novelists. Brennan obviously has skill with a pen, as evidenced by the multiple books and stories under her belt. That makes her viewpoint even more baffling. Make no mistake: Such an approach not only severs author from meaning, it cuts his throat and leaves him to bleed out in the gutter. It subverts every single thing he has labored hour after bleary-eyed hour to achieve. It’s an unabashed rebellion against the humility needed to submit oneself to the author's vision, a submission once quaintly called sound interpretation. The desire to craft new people, places and things is commendable. But if that's your aim, shouldn’t you be writing rather than reading?
It happens with other things, too. I willfully read strength into characters (especially women) that aren’t given any, or sympathy into characters the story wants me to demonize. And I choose that phrase for it because this isn’t something I think is in the story at all; I’m adding it wholesale, entirely against any reasonable interpretation that would pass muster with a decent literature professor. … It’s like I’m building my own story in my head, related to but not the same as the story on the page.
(Picture: CC 2008 by Pensiero)