Denotatively, Technically, Literally


For literary readers, the categories of the denotative, literal, and technical do not, cannot, or should not exist. No language can be denotative or literal for us, since language, above all literary language, never means what it says, pace recent attempts to declare otherwise. A purely technical language would be the opposite of the language of the literary text: operational in precisely the way the literary text is not. We do not use Heart of Darkness as a sailing manual or a handbook for the extraction of natural resources from colonized places, and we have no doubt that those who treat Thomas Hardy’s novels as travel guides to southwestern England are missing the point (although a large tourist industry does thus operationalize them, and quite successfully)….

–Elaine Freedgood and Cannon Schmitt

Continue reading this introduction to Representations 125, the special issue Denotatively, Technically, Literally, here.