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Rice University
Farnsworth Pavilion
15-17 March 1996

An interdisciplinary symposium sponsored by the Center for the Study of Cultures and the History Department with support from the Mellon Foundation.


Speakers & Papers

To speak of the limits of interpretation is to raise at least two distinct questions: Whether there are limits and, if so, what they are in the particular case of history. A third question, whether some historical phenomena surpass understanding altoget her, is hard to avoid once the first two are in play. The hyperbolic claims and counterclaims of the past decade or two appear to have done all the intellectual work of which they are capable. There is now a widely felt need for a more refined conceptual vocabulary, one rid of both positivist and Nietzschean excesses. When Umberto Eco asserts that "there are somewhere criteria for limiting interpretation," one wishes for greater specificity about where and what those criteria are. When Amos Funkenstein rejects naive realism but insists on "that which can never be isolated yet is all-pervasive: the constraints of reality," one wonders what sense of the real is being defended. Comparable discontents, though of an opposite spin, are evoked by Jonathan Culler when he assures us that "meaning is context-bound," but then goes on to insist that "context. itself is boundless . . . [so] the one thing we cannot do is set limits."*

Financial support from the Mellon Foundation made it possible to encourage the active involvement of graduate students both in the logistics of the symposium and in the discussions it generates. One aim of the event was to provide young PhD candidate s with an opportunity to thrash out the implications of the various representational and epistemological dilemmas that now preoccupy not only literary critics, but historians and humanists generally.

The symposium was held on March 15 - 17, 1996.

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