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This article is taken from PN Review 32, Volume 9 Number 6, July - August 1983.

Never Trust the Critic Nicolas Tredell

Set against the extraordinary antics of Geoffrey Hartman and the self-regarding convolutions of Harold Bloom, J. Hillis Miller's excursions into deconstruction have been comparatively civilized and accessible. This interview offers an excellent opportunity to explore some of the major issues raised by such an approach to literature.

Hillis Miller's statement that 'whatever deepening of human experience a piece of literature performs is going to be performed by the words and in no other way' implies that the mind is, in Locke's terms, 'a sheet of white paper, void of all characters', on which the literary text inscribes itself. But, as he himself says, literature is more difficult than it first seems. This means, not that it is the preserve of specialists, but that literary texts do not achieve a deepening of human experience automatically: the reader must be in a proper condition to receive them, or at least working towards it. This proper condition is not easily won; it demands a strenuous effort, constantly renewed, a discipline and commitment of the whole person, an accumulation of knowledge and understanding (not primarily, of course, of an academic kind) that can never be reduced to an explicit ideology, that must, in fact, become largely implicit to be effective. And it is only in working towards this condition that we can even begin to enter into, to take into ourselves, a literary text.

This effort is not necessarily fuelled by the assumption that a literary text has a ...


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