Thursday, August 9, 2012

Literature, Criticism, and Pluralism 2

As the title indicates, this post is a follow-up to my previous post, Literature, Criticism, and Pluralism. This post has been prompted both by my own after thoughts and by remarks by Terence Blake.
Caveat: This is quick and dirty. I’m more interested in sketching out a quick scheme than in working out details.
Let’s start with a simple diagram depicting relationships between three Realms of Being:


The Common Sense Realm is the world of consensus reality; we hold it more or less in common with all (adult) inhabitants of our society. The Literary Realm is the world of literary texts of all kinds, high, low, and mid-cult, adults, children, young adults, whatever. The Realm of Literary Criticism is that of formal written commentary on those texts. An arrow between two realms indicates some relationship between the two. The Realm at the head end of the arrow has access to the Realm at the tail end.

Thus LCR (Literary Criticism Realm) has access to both CSR (Common Sense Realm or Common Sense) and LR (Literary Realm). Note that the arrow between CSR and LR is double-headed, indicating that each has access to the other. The texts in LCR are largely about objects (informally understood), persons, and events in CSR while the texts in LR physically circulate in CSR and people comment informally on those texts in CSR.

And then there’s that red arrow from LCR to CSR. Why didn’t I just use a double-headed arrow between the two, like I did for CSR and LR? I don’t quite know. And perhaps it isn’t necessary. My feeling is, though, that there’s a kind of asymmetry between LCR and CSR that doesn’t obtain between CSR and LR. The question is an important one, but it’s not one I can hash out now.

Let’s say that that diagram depicts Plain Old Literary criticism of the sort that’s existed since Whenever. It thus includes belletristic essays and journalistic reviews and commentary. One might even argue that it belongs fully in CSR. One might. But I’m not. In any event, in the Anglophone world (I don’t know about Continental Academia) it collided with philology in the middle of the previous century and became academic literary criticism.

Consider this diagram, which depicts four Realms of Being:


This is academic literary criticism as it emerged after World War II. [I’m excluding straight literary history and biography and textual criticism (the editing of primary texts). Those obviously belong to the discipline, but they’re not at the messy controversial intellectual core.] We have CSR and LR as before, and have added a Realm for Hermeneutic Engines (RHE or Engines). All three of these are visible from the Realm of Academic Literary Criticism (RALC or Academic Criticism). RHE contains any and all of the psychologies, philosophies, political and social theories, etc. that have been used in literary criticism. It is the inclusion of these Engines in the critical process that has made Academic Criticism the specialized and often controversial activity it has become.

In this case I can justify that red arrow from Academic Criticism to Common Sense by virtue of Academic Criticism’s specialized nature. Common Sense has access to only a simplified version of Academic Criticism, if that.

The next diagram depicts the Realm of Naturalist Criticism as I conceive it:

CSR is gone (but don’t worry, I’ll restore it in the last diagram). Computational Psychologies has taken its place in the diagram. Notice, though, that Comp Psych doesn’t have a relationship with the Literary Realm.

Notice also the red arrow from Naturalist Criticism to Computational Psychologies. I’m imagining, in the first place, that the descriptive work of Naturalist Criticism will provide those psychologies with rich and complex examples for which they will have to build models. Beyond that I note that the psychological study of literary texts (and other forms of expressive culture) is one of the best ways to study the operation of the whole mind in a more or less naturalistic way. Thus where Academic Literary Criticism has had relatively little influence on the disciplines it has employed as Hermeneutic Engines, I expect that Naturalist Criticism will be of considerable interest to the Computational Psychologies. For it gives them a way of studying complex mental activities that are otherwise all but inaccessible. In fact, one can see the beginnings of such work in the psychology of Keith Oatley and the brain imaging of Uri Hasson.

Finally, seven Realms:


I’ve taken the diagram for Academic Literary Criticism and combined it with the diagram for Naturalist Criticism. In this new diagram the old Academic Lit Crit Realm has been renamed as the Realm of Hermeneutic Criticism, which is now parallel to the Realm of Naturalistic Criticism. Each has access to the Literary Realm, of course, and each is accessed by Academic Literary Criticism, which, as before, has its reflect (the red arrow) in the Common Sense Realm.

The important point is that I do not conceive of Naturalist Criticism as either replacing or subsuming Hermeneutic Criticism. It is a separate activity for it, different in kind. And both are necessary to the academic study of literature in the 21st Century.

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