Act & quality: a theory of literary meaning and humanistic by Charles Altieri

By Charles Altieri

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A. Richards' affective theory and its heirs, to unstable New Critical attempts to show how emotive meanings could actually constitute or refer to nondiscursive features of experience, to the sceptical ironies of Derrida and his allies. The later Wittgenstein, on the other hand, formulates what will become a pragmatic approach to meanings: shared meanings (or what I shall call ''secure" meanings) are possible to the extent that we can agree on the place of the utterance in a general practice and then establish its intention in relation to the specific context.

Rather, the crucial category is one of appropriate sense that depends on what I call a procedural approach to meaning. This approach emphasizes methods of projection rather than pictorial lines of projection, as the mediation between words and world. This means that referential criteria apply in some procedures, but in many contexts other methods of projection can establish secure senses for emotive or expressive terms. We learn how to distinguish appropriate senses because our education in a native language is also an education into a culture.

I cannot be as clear on the concept of quality as I would like, but I think I employ it in accordance with ordinary usage. Quality has two overlapping general meanings-one descriptive and one normative-which it is hard not to exploit. Descriptively, quality is the opposite of quantity: it refers to an act or object considered not as merely a member of an abstract class, but as a particular, with its distinctive qualis or whatness. Quality is whatness quo modo, whatness as characterizing individuality (perhaps Heidegger's being emerging through particulars), and not as reducible to general categories of the understanding.

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