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Reference Restored

  • Michael Grant

Abstract

This reading is taken from Not Saussure (1988, 1995), the first of Tallis’s books to address the errors and confusions of post-Saussurean literary theory. His aim here is to defend a notion of reference in order to defend realism — not only the so-called ‘classic realism’ of the nineteenth-century novel and mainstream Hollywood feature films, but also subsequent ‘experimental’ realism — against the attacks launched on it by theorists such as Colin MacCabe, Stephen Heath, Catherine Belsey and Terry Eagleton in England, and Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida and Julia Kristeva in France. One ground for this attack from the theoretically inclined generation of the 1970s and 1980s derived from the notion that there is no outside to language: everything is text and there is no outside to the text. Lacan went so far as to assert that it is the world of words that creates the world of things. These kinds of idea have their basis in the belief that Saussure had shown that language does not mirror a reality that preexists it and that meaning arises as a consequence of the internal relations holding within the language system. To the theorists, this inevitably meant that the attempt to let reality into the novel was misconceived. Realism can only be a way of passing off what seems real, the verisimilitudinous, as what is real: realism is therefore no more than a fake, the mere creation of an ‘effet du réel’. Furthermore, if one links realism with the tastes of the dominant class, the bourgeoisie, it follows that the fate of the nineteenth-century novel, and indeed any form of narrative pattern that resembles it, such as Hollywood narratives were thought to do, is sealed. Tallis wants to say that while one may indeed agree that language does not correspond to the world, in the sense of mirroring it or providing a window onto it, it does not follow that reference and realism are thereby impossible. A plausible account of language must recognise that, while discourse does not mirror the world, precise reference and accurate description are nevertheless a central part of the way we ordinarily use words.

Keywords

Natural Kind Material Object Family Resemblance Linguistic Sign Verbal Meaning 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 2.
    ‘Philosophy and the Form of Fiction’, in R. Scholes (ed.), Fiction and the Figures of Life (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970), p. 12.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Quoted - without protest — by Jonathan Culler in Structuralist Poetics (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975), p. 109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 4.
    The phenomenon of ‘lapsed structuralism’ is discussed in Raymond Tallis, Not Saussure (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988, 1995), section 3.4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 6.
    Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G.E.M. Anscombe (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1953), p. 32.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    see, for example, John Searle, Speech Acts (Cambridge University Press, 1969), section 7.2, ‘Proper names’.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    See John Lyons, Semantics (Cambridge University Press, 1977), vol. I, ch. 4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Edmund Gosse, quoted in Damien Grant, Realism (London: Methuen, 1970), p. 15.Google Scholar
  8. 15.
    ‘Criticism has taken the very idea of “aboutness” away from us. It has taught us that language is tautological, if it is not nonsense, and to the extent it is about anything, it is about itself’ (Robert Scholes, ‘Fictional Criticism of the Future’, Triquarterly 34 (Fall 1975)).Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    Robert Scholes, The Tabulators (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967).Google Scholar
  10. 17.
    Raymond Tallis, ‘The Realistic Novel versus the Cinema’, Critical Quarterly, vol. 27, no. 2 (1985), pp. 57–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    P.F. Strawson, Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics (London: Methuen, 1959).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Roland Barthes, The Death of the Author, in Image-Music-Text, selected and trans. Stephen Heath (London: Fontana, 1977), p. 142.Google Scholar
  13. 23.
    Terence Hawkes, Structuralism and Semiotics (London: Methuen, 1977), p. 156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Raymond Tallis 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Grant
    • 1
  1. 1.Rutherford CollegeThe University of KentCanterburyUK

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