Différence, Deference, and the Notion of Proper Reading

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Stephen R. Yarbrough, Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/

Abstract: The early Greeks were aware that situation, propriety, and originality comprised a unity, and they believed that this unity marked the difference between grammar and the full speech of discourse. Isocrates, for example, said in "Against the Sophists" that . . . the greatest proof of the difference between these two arts is that oratory is good only if it has the qualities of fitness for the occasion [καιρων], propriety of style [πρεποντω], and originality of treatment [καινω], while in the case of letters there is no such need whatsoever.1 Of these the central term is prepon [πρεπον]. As Max Pohlenz has brilliantly demonstrated, the history of classical art theory is in fact the history of the concept of the proper.2 In the last decade the notion of propriety has again become problematic for literary theory. The problem is not merely that twentieth-century developments in phenomenology undermined projects that describe truth in terms of representation, or that extensions from structural linguistics to semiotics have forced philosophers of language to contest the idea of the text upon which these projects depend. The problem is more far-reaching because modern thought has simply forgotten the meaning of prepon altogether. In the late twentieth-century, the forgetting of prepon has become acutely noticeable in literary criticism because so many popular theories derive from deconstructive or hermeneutic philosophy. I do not mean to claim that the forgetting of prepon originates from these philosophies, or that these philosophies are the only ones which encourage critics to forget prepon, or even that deconstructive and hermeneutic methodologies cannot be useful tools for critics concerned with the question of propriety. I chose these two methods for consideration here simply because in the present scene of literary theory it is rhetorically impossible to address the issues involved in the question of proper reading without first distinguishing them from the issues of deconstruction and hermeneutics. This of course requires an examination of what is meant by propriety in these two philosophies.

Additional Information

Man and World 20 (Spring): 257-82
Language: English
Date: 1987

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