Debating Evaluative Terms in Literary Scholarship

        The debate alluded to in the discussion of "critical insight" probably would arise from an objection to the notion, borrowed from the philosophical study of "hermeneutics," that one can "read into" a text, plumbing depths within it to recover meanings hidden by its surface much as a nut is hidden by its shell.  Paul Ricoeur identifies the hermeneutic term for the result of an insight as the text's kerygma or "proclamation" which, according to theorists like Rudolf  Bultmann, has been hidden from us by cultural change or distance, but which is recoverable by an act of faithful "merging" with the text.  Ricoeur contrasts this hopeful view of our investigations with the views of skeptics like Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche, who see the surfaces of literature as evidence of "false consciousness" which must be exposed to detect hidden ideologies driving readers and writers to serve various equally hidden power structures.  (For the full version of this argument, see The Conflict of Interpretations: Essays in Hermeneutics, 1969/trans. 1974, and for a compact and lucid summary, see Robert C. Holub's entry on "Hermeneutics" in The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism, online by subscription and free to Goucher college students inside our firewall.)

        The English Department uses the term "insight" more generally to indicate the product of any diligent scholar's original observations and analysis which might be said to expose or render visible something previously not obviously accessible to the common reader.  Insights could be about exterior form as well as spiritual belief.