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By Patrick O'Donnell

Passionate Doubts: Designs of Interpretation in modern American Fiction

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The literal or the "what happened" and our creation of a relation to it are the grounds of interpretation, but, of course, they don't mean anything by themselves. Another way of saying this is that every text or event is already interpreted before we get to it: it has already entered into a language which is historical, which exists within certain ideological frames. And it is read by an individual who is already, as "consciousness" or "self" or "sign," part of a biological, personal, and social history that frames this reading.

A grant from the Arizona Humanities Council allowed me to use the fine collections in contemporary fiction and theory at the libraries of the University of California-Irvine and the University of CaliforniaLos Angeles. Albert Geggenheimer, editor of the Arizona Quarterly, and Claude Richard, editor of Delta, have kindly allowed me to reprint revisions of the discussions of Pale Fire and Travesty which originally appeared in their journals. Not at all finally, my family has given me the kind of consideration and support which can be properly acknowledged only in private.

We know what it is to read, but the novels that I shall discuss raise the issue of what it is to be read. By foregrounding a process of interpretation, by dramatizing the scene of their own writing, these novels question their begetting as texts while suggesting that the production and reading of signs, whether or not these appear between the covers of a book, correspond to the articulation of what is meaningful in human experience. In this scriptive view, to be "human" is to be a reader; to achieve an "identity" means to become a sign (of something) to others.

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