There are few things that annoy me more in a reading of a text than the claim that the author “doesn’t mean” what the text “literally says.” Such a claim sounds like a sophisticated reading strategy, one which wouldn’t be fooled by a cunning author, but it is based on a naive belief that authors have intentions and texts have literal meanings. Worse, because this kind of reading depends on basically unknowable authorial intentions, the reader has a great deal of license to decide where the intention and the literal meaning diverge, and the tendency is for this to coincide with whatever the reader feels is least plausible in the text. So, this supposedly sophisticated method of reading ends up domesticating texts, turning a text which might challenge the reader into one which just reinforces their own beliefs (the king of this kind of reading is Leo Strauss, who managed to read his philosophy into the entire western canon).
I was thinking of this because I’ve been reading various interpretations of Capital that seek to find where Marx is being “ironic,” and so where his true belief is the opposite of the position he puts forward. Read more↴