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This article is taken from PN Review 17, Volume 7 Number 3, January - February 1981.

'Critic'-'Reader' George Steiner

SOME distinctions between critic and reader may be worth testing on the understanding that, for purposes of focus, these two terms are being used with fictive stringency, that they are being hypostatized.

It may be that the reciprocal relations of the 'critic' and of the 'reader' to the text are not only different but, in certain respects, antithetical. The critic is an epistemologist. This is to say that the distances between himself and the text are of themselves fertile and problematical. Insofar as these distances are made explicit and subject to investigation, they generate intermediate texts, or what are currently known as 'metatexts'. The separation between the critic and 'his' text-in what sense is it 'his'?-is reflexive. It makes sensible, it dramatizes its own inhibitory or translational status. 'Inhibition' and 'translation' are the cardinal and kindred categories of the critic's distancing. There are obstacles and opacities to be overcome or to be sharply delineated in the space between himself and the text. There are, conversely, translations to be made of his text into analogous or parodistic modes of statement (used neutrally, 'parodistic' is a legitimate notion, comprising as it does the whole range of critical restatements and interpretative parallels from punitive dismissal to mimetic enchantment). Inhibition and translation are cognate because it is the obstacle 'in front of the text which compels circumvention and transfer ('translation'), which prevents the critic's total, exhaustive restatement and repetition of the original text. Such tautologous repetition, on the other hand, is ...


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