Text and Scrutiny

“Texts, like dead men, have no rights”, wrote the Bible critic, Robert Morgan, suggesting that the meaning of texts today are in the hands of the readers, and out of the hands of its authors. But does that mean we can interpret it as we like and do to it as we like?

One of my favourite(?) modernist principles goes by the long name of hyper-protected cooperative principle. But really it just means that when we say or write something it follows a certain convention so that the person or people it is intended for can make sense of it. In other words, we intend such messages to have a particular meaning.

Texts, of course, are written to have particular “meaning”. They are written (I will stick with written texts for now) to either persuade or dissuade. But to suggest that we use it for no other purpose than its intended meaning is to (un)wittingly shield the text. But what exactly are we wanting to shield the text from?

For postmodern critics to suggest that texts have no rights is a way to open it up to investigation for hidden – usually more sinister – agendas and values which have been cleverly camouflaged by a textual strategy. It is precisely because the agendas and values are less palatable (if they would be known) that their writers want to hide them. Thus writers also open themselves up for scrutiny once they produce text. And this writer is not immuned from this.

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