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This review is taken from PN Review 78, Volume 17 Number 4, March - April 1991.

PRAGMATIC PROTOCOLS Robert Scholes, Protocols of Reading (Yale University Press) £16
Paul B. Armstrong, Conflicting Readings: Variety and Validity in Interpretation (University of North Carolina Press) $27.45, $14.25 pb

The ability to say 'neither ... nor ...' can be seen as a sign of feeble indecisiveness or flexible intelligence. In both these books, it is, for the most part, an index of the latter quality, though issues are sometimes fudged or evaded. Both Scholes and Armstrong are concerned with 'protocols of reading' - Derrida's phrase, which gives Scholes his title - and both want to avoid the anarchy of interpretative freeplay, on the one hand, and, on the other, the authoritarianism of what Scholes calls 'textual fundamentalism' - the appeal to the 'one right meaning' that is, for those with eyes to see, manifestly there in the text. They are both heirs to John Dewey in their concern for education and democracy, and they demonstrate the continued resourcefulness and relevance of the American pragmatist tradition, though Armstrong resists its recent Rortyan extension, seeing such genial relativism as potentially enervating and self-enclosing. Both have also been strongly influenced, especially in their earlier work, by hermeneutic modes of European provenance - Scholes by structuralism, Armstrong by phenomenology - which are now somewhat dated (though not thereby invalid). Their latest books work to promote a pragmatic ethos that permits a range of critical approaches but eschews a flaccid eclecticism.

Scholes distinguishes between 'centripetal' and 'centrifugal' approaches to reading. The former assumes, and seeks, a 'centring' of the text on a specific and essential meaning, while the latter pursues the endless disseminations of meanings for which the text is only ...


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