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« Equivalent of falling into a black hole? | Main | Department of unbelievably false movie advertising, #2911 »

December 15, 2008


Amateur Reader

I have become sufficiently aware of this problem that I now attribute any major change of register or rhetoric that I don't understand to parody. I'm not sure that's a good solution, either. Well, I'm learnin'.

Reading Scott, placing him in context, was revelatory. I am beginning to do the same thing with Carlyle - he is much more important than I had thought.

Some of this is available to the non-specialist, but I'm not going to read all of the junk Thackeray mocks. This is why I appreciate your posts on your research.

Dave Mazella

I think defining the contexts necessary or useful for understanding a particular literary work is one of the key duties of literary criticism. But because there's no natural stopping point for such activity, non-specialist readers will soon lose interest in such discussions.

There are good reasons, though, why some readers don't want to be bothered with footnotes or other kinds of apparatus (especially for a book they will never reread), or why a successful translation has been defined as one that doesn't need any footnotes or commentary. The online discussion you quote seems only to emphasize the openended aspect of contextualization, whereas I think decontextualization is just as important.

Peter Burke talks about the trickiness of understanding "context" across disciplinary boundaries, because this term helps literally to "weave together" inside and outside, tacit and explicit understandings. Much of the work you describe for those religious novels lies in rendering once tacit contexts visible, and hopefully necessary, to contemporary readers, even scholarly ones, with rather different concerns.



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