Essays on Swift and his Contemporaries in Honour of Hermann J. Real
Edited By Kirsten Juhas, Patrick Müller and Mascha Hansen
VIII. HERMANN J. REAL AND SWIFT STUDIES
CANDID INTERPRETATIONS: HERMANN REAL AND OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE SWIFTIAN TEXT1 Marcus Walsh, University of Liverpool, Liverpool Hermann Real’s first question to me, on our first meeting, was “So are you really an intentionalist?” This was some years ago, when such professed inten- tionalists as Hermann and myself were a persecuted remnant, embattled ad- herents of an older system of belief. The world of Swift studies was then dominated by one version or another of the “Tenents”2 of a very different sect: that Swift’s writings in general, and Gulliver’s Travels and A Tale of a Tub in particular, constituted a “critique of textuality per se”; that Swift believed that “every writing is a site for corruption, no matter what authority – natural, divine, or archetypal – we may wishfully invest in it”; and consequently, that “a multiplicity of readings are sanctioned by the words of a text, independently of a supposedly prelinguistic authorial intention or psychology.”3 Since then, the worship of this theoretical goose has lost much of its attraction and many of its acolytes, and we have seen at least a partial return in English studies to what Eric Donald Hirsch, Jr (Hermann’s most admired theorist) has called “the sensible belief that a text means what its author meant.”4 Swift himself repeatedly asserted a belief in the possibility of plain meanings, embodying “the Author’s Intentions,” and worthy of the reader’s “candid Interpretation” (p. 6). He approved of texts which, like the father’s will (in A Tale of a...
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