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By Irvin Ehrenpreis

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Extra info for Acts of Implication: Suggestion and Covert Meaning in the Works of Dryden, Swift, Pope, and Austen (The Beckman Lectures, 1978)

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To accept, in short, that literary writing is shaped entirely 32 Not Saussure by literary, textual forces and that it reflects neither extra-literary reality nor the experiences, feelings and conscious intentions of their authors; that literature is 'contextualised' from within rather than being governed at least in part by non-literary or even non-discursive influences. Theories about the nature of poetry provided one of the more important roads to both the French and American acceptance of the more contentious ideas about the scope of intertextuality.

In so far as tradition shapes the form of a work, earlier writing is the latter's implicit framework; or (to use the fashionable terminology) the context of individual texts is, to this extent, more text. It is easy to see how these observations apply to form - how at the level of form, literary works imitate, hark back to and hence implicitly refer to, one another. But they are equally applicable to content. For previous writing will in some degree determine what is worthy of literary notice, even what is noticeable - and hence writable - not only at the level at which 'suitable' themes are identified for literary treatment but also further down, in the manner in which they are handled and even in the selection of empirical detail.

As E. D. Hirsch has written (with an exaggeration that is only too typical of literary theorists): 'an interpreter's preliminary generic conception of the text is constitutive of everything that he subsequently understands, and ... ' 5 The consumption, as well as the production of literature, then, is an activity that takes place within internal traditions of form, content and genre. Extra-literary reality, the manifest theme of the work, is by no means the exclusive determinant of its shape or content; its extra-linguistic referents are not its only referents.

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