chapter  13
12 Pages

Theorising Postcolonial Reception: Writing, Reading and Moral Agency in the Satanic Verses Affair: Daniel Allington


It is diffi cult to engage with the ethics of writing within the mainstream of literary studies, because since the New Criticism, that discipline has overwhelmingly tended to conceive its object of enquiry as an abstract structure of pure language: “text”. Moreover, the hiving off of critical editing from critical interpretation and the theoretical and institutional privileging of the latter (see McGann 1983) have encouraged the text of pure language to be treated as a given. One knows that books come into being through human agency (see Darnton 1990). And yet, once one accepts that enquiry into the agency behind text is guided by an “intentional fallacy” (Wimsatt and Beardsley 1946), one seems to have little alternative but to treat text as if it were only an ineffable that-which-is-to-be-interpreted. Indeed, such an approach is celebrated by those who place literary critics at the centre of the textual universe, “writing” the texts that they interpret (e.g., Fish 1980). However, a more politically inclined theorist might be inclined to see in “the . . . maxim that it is the method that the reader brings to bear upon the text that enables it to be heard and seen” only a form of “false consciousness” (Pearce 1997, 42). That being so, false consciousness is diffi cult to escape within literary studies, since the institution of academic criticism obliges its practitioners endlessly to manufacture new interpretations, and since the agentless text of pure language can endlessly be reinterpreted (see Allington 2006). And if the critic is the producer of the meanings that he or she critiques, then criticism would seem a rather solipsistic and apolitical enterprise. How can it address the traumas of colonisation, decolonisation and globalisation?