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Relevance theory and literary interpretation

Furlong, A.; (1995) Relevance theory and literary interpretation. Doctoral thesis , University of London. Green open access

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Abstract

The thesis aims to contribute to literary studies by characterising literary interpretation not as a unique activity but as a subset of general communication, driven by a global cognitive strategy: the search for relevance. It will use relevance theory to account for the production and evaluation of literary interpretations. It also attempts to shed light on the notion of literariness. The thesis briefly treats the major schools of thought on literature and literary interpretation, and criticises the communication model which underlies virtually all of them. A sketch of relevance theory is given, setting out the basic arguments of the theory with emphasis on those aspects most pertinent to literature: the writer's intention, and the question of responsibility in interpretation. This discussion raises issues of vagueness and indeterminacy, and the effects peculiar to the literary work. These, it is argued, play a crucial role in conveying the writer's intention, and in creating literary or "poetic" effects. Detailed discussion of specific literary works, both prose and verse, illustrates how the interpretive process might work in relevance-theoretic terms. The notion of "foregrounding" is discussed, and a relevance-theoretic approach to the phenomenon is illustrated in a discussion of repetition and irony in prose and verse. Finally, the thesis returns to what constitutes a literary interpretation, and distinguishes on principled grounds between interpretations produced in the search for optimal relevance (exegetical) from those produced in the search for actual or maximal relevance (eisegetical). A discussion of what distinguishes the literary interpretation and the literary work develops the implications of this application. The thesis concludes with a consideration of the question of what properties characterise a classic work, and to considerations related to the formation of a canon, especially in literature.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Relevance theory and literary interpretation
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by British Library EThOS
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Linguistics
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1349785
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