I'd like to clarify here that I'm not a proponent of the New Criticism movement, where the meaning of texts is only to be sought within their internal structure taken in isolation. I do hold that texts are related to their author, but in a much more complex way than the assumption of transparent psychological motives.
I treat texts as performative in a situated sense - where performances are creative acts of negotiation and communication and situated is to be understood historically and discursively. Thus I read a text within its social embeddedness and not psychologically. By performance here I don't mean that the production of a text is an entirely deliberate act but a creative act, which attempts to integrate a select array of plural discourses within its dialogic expression. I also avoid criticism, which assumes formal and ahistorical standards, seeing myself more as a cultural historian, who is interested in understanding what discourses are addressed in the text and how. DB
A text in its own time (the writer's cultural milieu in which s/he is situated) and in present time (wrt contemporary concerns) stands as a negotiation among a variety of dicsourses. These are not merely echoes of personal voices or styles but ideological orientations which subsume a variety of standpoints. Important "authors" are like placeholders for such standpoints (author function). A text reveals itself to be a dialog with several such discourses.
Texts may be conscious of their dialogic nature to different degrees - to the extent of its originality as an integrative text, one can read various clear ideological positions and the stand taken in the text in relation to them. I made the difference between a deliberate production and a creative production to point to the fact that an author does not necessarily start out knowing what s/he is going to answer and how, but through a creative act brings these discourses into focus and relates itself to them.
Take The Life Divine for example. Sri Aurobindo is very conscious of the historicity of various discourses which provide different trajectories for human becoming and negotiates his integral ground by addressing all these. Outside of his own intent, contemporary thought has introduced new concerns (which are often old concerns in new bottles) which the text can be seen to have anticipated in certain ways and hence retains its fertility. The question of bias arises in a situated study very clearly. In untangling the discourses and their genealogies in a text, the biases of the text also reveal themselves. DB Reply
Literary or art critics have to use some standard by which to judge whether a work is good or bad. Such standards tend to be "true for all time" (ahistorical) and based on certain ideas of the value of style and form (formal). Or else, they attempt a psychological reading - as you say, by trying to judge whether a writer has prejudices or not. As I pointed out, to judge personal prejudices from writing is a dangerous and illegitimate reading in my opinion, since texts are opaque regarding author intent beyond a certain point. Only in some very obvious cases, usually lacking any complexity (eg. Mein Kampf) can such claims perhaps be legitimately made (not by me though).
On the issue of formal criticism, I don't believe in it. Culture prepares the ground of appreciation, though taste certainly has an intuition of beauty within such preparation. However, even this does not interest me. What is of concern to me is the way in which a text functions to take a stand in the culture of its time - this is the approach of cultural history as against that of literary or art criticism. Reply