from ‘Who Is Responsible for Ethical Criticism, and for What?’ by Wayne C. Booth

No authority in the worlds can force to to take these données [assumptions] in the offered way; we can always refuse to grasp the story as a story and turn it instead to other predetermined purposes.  Those who hail the indeterminacy of all “texts” are thus quite right, up to a point: readers must always in a sense decide whether to accept a given responsibility.  We can if we choose, as Rabelais and Swift remind us, employ the pages of the greatest classics as bumwipes.  Nor is the intimacy of our engagement with these implacable données, when we do surrender, the sort of thing that can be demonstrated by argument: it is known only in experience.  But it is hard to imagine any human being who has not known on many occasions the kind of submersion in other minds that we are considering.  Though academic study of literature too often seems designed to make such fusions of spirits impossible, turning every “text” into a thoroughly distanced puzzle or enigma, the fact remains that even the impassive puzzle solver or symbol hunter or signifier chaser is to some degree caught up in patterns determined by the puzzle — the tale as told.  The only way to avoid “thinking the thought of another” — that mysterious quite-probably-dead “other” who chose to tell this tale in this way — is to stop listening.

Addendum: this is me


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