Fallacies for Advanced Readers

It was in the neo-classical age, when Pope aimed his bitter agonies upon Colliey Cibber – because he [Cibber] had severely criticized Pope’s earlier work – Cibber commented that once a writer writes something, it becomes no longer his own, and therefore he should not be sentimental due to the criticism that is to be made on his work , as a man who goes to the rain, should not be worried about being wet.

This is perhaps the best expression of mankind on the rising tendencies related to the field of judgement of literature. I say this because, the work of a critic and the criticism on it are two dimension of whole literary study, and every scholar knows that there is an age old conflict between these two to gain supremacy over the other. This fact that a conflict is going on is even not simply in black or white, rather it turned out to be in a range of shades of grey – i.e. the critical discussion of literature has atendency to diverge the aim with which one starts to enter into the process of critical evaluation of any work of art. We see from Plato’s time that the discussion of literature hangs over mainly two aspects:

  1. What is the literature (or poetry )?
  2. What is its aim?


But while analyzing literature, the supposed aim seems more blur and undergoes a process of shifting. The more one tries to reach at the aim, the more it slips back like a mirage. We may use post-structuralist views that each time the “signified” is replaced by a signifier due to the fact that multiplicity of meaning exists and a text can’t have ‘a meaning’. So, what I am trying point out here is that due to such “shifts” in our presupposed aim to find out truth related to any piece of work of art, there arises the errors , which the New Critics had, in their attempt to categories the end of their ideology, grouped under the common term ‘fallacy’.

All the well established fallacies, that have secured their seats in various glossaries of literary terms, such as ‘Affective Fallacy’, ‘Tragic Fallacy’, ‘Internal Fallacy’, are in fact some kind of the ‘conflict’ that I have mentioned at the very beginning of this paper.

This conflict between writer and critic can be seen as the junction where diverging paths of exploration to the studies of different fallacies are originated. And this was recognized first by C.S. Lewis, who termed this ‘root of conflict’ as ‘Personal Heresy’. In 1934, C.S.lewis published an article ‘The Personal Heresy in criticism’ in Essays and Studies, where he reacted heavily to E.M.W.Tilliyard’s view that poetry is a state of mind of the poet – a reflection of the personality of the poet. Then the replies and counter replies of the two were later came up in a single volume in 1939 under the title The Personal Heresy.


The seed of such conflict was there back in the 20s, in the criticism of T.S.Eliot and I.A.Richards. Eliot’s view on ‘tradition’ squeezed the personality of the author out of his work as he described the expression by the poet as the product of past authors’ dead metaphors, language, ideas, expressions, by which he concluded that there is no individual pure-contribution of the author present in his work. Richard’s dissection of human mind and its working in the context of literary creation and judgment presented the similar view. And these views were concluded as ‘Internal fallacy’ in 1946 by W.K.Winsmatt in his book The Intentional Fallacy (reprinted in his The Verbal Icon,1954),where he summed up the “age old conflict” and declared it an error to assign the possession of any of the either of the writer or the critic on any work of art – that a poem ‘is not the critic’s own and not the author’s.’ and it is concluded that the work of art ‘goes about the world beyond his [ author or critic] to intend about it or control it.’

This view was later made the ‘punch line’ of the readers response theory, that exploited the newly invented structure and post structural jargon to sell this very old wine in a new bottle. Each critic of the readers response theory used a shade that is not exactly black or white, but a ‘grey’ to tell the same old theory.

But the difference that was there in the readers response theory was that, it instead of talking about the conflict directly, tried to gossip on one of the aspect of the conflict – the ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’ aspect of whole literary process from author to critic (or reader).

What we see here is how we slip from the original aim (we slip from focusing on the conflict to an aspect of this conflict). This ‘deferring’ from the soul aim is another kind of fallacy about which W.K.Wnsmatt, talked in 1954 in The Verbal Icon. This he termed as ‘Affective Fallacy’.

This fallacy is the error, which arises from the ‘deference’ from the ontological aspect of literature to a dimension which is relatively near to the centre of the discussion, but is in fact not the exact centre – ‘a confusion between the poem and its results (what it is and what it does).’

This critical error that ‘results in the mind of the reader’ is in fact the very base on which deconstructionist ideas are based upon. Derrida’s, Focault’s theories are always insisting upon  the ‘gap’ that exists between ‘signiufier and ‘signified’, which ultimately leads the ‘signifier’ to be a ‘zaum’ (Russian term indicating that ultimate truth can be never expressed).

And from this whole discussion, we can form a rough hypothesis that the knowledge (if seen as a ‘tantalization’) is in fact lacks any reason or logic to be expressede through any means  of articulation. But that does not mean that we must start to make our literature devoid of the sequence or logic, so that (foolish enough) our literature will resemble the experience. Because, that would be a process of unleashing. And what I am talking here in this very paragraph is all about another fallacy known as ‘Fallacy of Expressive Form’. This term, R.P.Blackmur  had adopted , from the observations of Yover Winters, who talked about ‘Heresy of Expressive Form’— that  stands for the error due to the attempt to express or or describe the ‘disintegration of a belief or a civilization in a chaotic form’. And Winters was on the view that though the world is chaotic, we must not use disintegrating form of mode of expression (such as Ulysses by Joyce).

Though Winters believed that it is impossible to discipline the indiscipline in any expression, I feel that after deconstruction theory, such a thinking can’t be any more a part of our optimistic consciousness, because no meaning is possible due to the absence of the centre in our belief system – no point of convergence exists – and which ultimately prescribes us just (to quote Edward Said)‘to attempt in spite of the impossibility of success’.

© Samir K. Dash, 2003