Friday, January 04, 2008

Noon on Scholes

Doug Noon does a great job summarizing and contextualizing Robert Scholes' Textual Power: Literary Theory and the Teaching of English, a book I frequently refer to and recommend. He does a much better job explaining it than I can. This gets to the heart of it:

Scholes’ practical chapters walk us through an example of his vision. He has a simple framework that includes three basic competencies that he sees as intertwined, but distinct enough from each other to discuss individually. These he calls reading, interpretation, and criticism. I especially like the intertextual schema he uses for his model. A brief description of each strand:

Scholes sees reading as the production of text within text. It’s the largely unconscious process we use to access the author’s message. While reading, we engage the generic and cultural codes used by the author. Vocabulary knowledge, discussion, description, and background knowledge all contribute to a reader’s ability to construct a text by entering the author’s world.

Interpretation is the production of text upon text, and Scholes see this activity as dependent upon breakdowns in communication. When we perceive a message as somehow incomplete, we employ “fix-up” strategies to help us make sense. Scholes notes that we’re motivated toward interpretive activity by “either some excess of meaning in a text or of some deficiency of knowledge in the reader (p. 22).” The impulse to understand, to look for meaning, is basic to literary analysis.

The production of text against text happens when we believe that a work has not lived up to its intended purpose. Criticism springs from an interest that is not just simply personal, but which is rooted in particular social texts with which a reader/critic may feel a close affinity. Scholes observes that criticism is in some ways the reverse of interpretation, since it comes about when the reader brings an “excess” of meaning to the text, and the text is judged somehow deficient.

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