Literary Studies

During five years or so at The Valve I posted on various subjects. This is an annotated list of some, but by no means all, of the posts I did about the study of literature, mostly as an activity, but occasionally touching on the institutional. They are listed in chronological order, from oldest to most recent. Many of them center on contrasts between what I see myself proposing and what I see as more or less mainstream stances, though mostly an older mainstream rather than one informed by Theory and expressed in new historicist writing.

One question that I haven’t addressed at all, and it’s a critical one: What about “world literature”? There is, of course, English-language literature from places other than the USA, Canada, Britain, and Australia. But there’s everything else as well, including South and East Asian literature in translation.

Finally, I’d like to mention two of the most recent posts, both relatively short: Style Matters, and Literary Studies, Hermeneutic Insiders and Naturalist Outsiders. Much of what’s in the other posts I brought with me when I started blogging here. What’s in those two posts, obvious as it might be, is what I learned through blogging here.

I've reposted some of these on New Savanna, and one day I'll note which ones and give links.

This post takes as its text a passage from the “Polemical Introduction” to Northrup Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism. Frye distinguishes between the silent and private “reading of literature” and “the talking world of criticism.” From there I reference Geoffrey Hartman’s nostalgic notion that the writing of criticism should bring him closer to the text and I conclude by talking just a bit about how fans of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” chatter about the program at a particular website.

First I set up a parallel between De Man’s critique of intentionalism in “Form and Intent in the American New Criticism” and what cognitive linguists know as the conduit metaphor for communication. And then I work my way to Fish’s early critique of linguistics in stylistics which I use as a segue to discussion computer simulation of language behavior. I use that discussion to critique Fish’s argument.

First I kvetch about a passage from a reader’s report of an early essay of mine on “Kubla Khan.” This reader thought the essay contain material he could use in teaching the poem, but he nonetheless argued against publication. More on Geoffrey Hartmann’s nostalgia for a criticism that brings the critic closer to the text, but also critiques of critiques of cognitivism.

See also the extensive discussion to Learning to Read & the Need for Theory

"Lindsay Water’s Chronicle article got me interested in Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht’s Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey. So I ordered it and it arrived yesterday. I’ve not yet read it in full, though it’s a short book. But I’ve blitzed through it looking for the “good parts.” In particular, I was looking to see whether or not a book with that title and subtitle would be talking about things I thought it s/would be talking about. I was not disappointed."

A brief consideration of Beverly Lyon Clark, Kiddie Lit: The Cultural Construction of Children’s Literature in America, which is about the institutionalization of children’s literature. Questions: How can we properly value children’s literature? Is the study of children’s literature a proper part of the general study of literature or should it remain the province of schools of education and developmental psychologists?

I learned to appreciate the value of bare-bones chronologies in courses taught by Dick Macksey, who prepared chronologies for everything. This is a brief chronology in which I list important or representative publications in cognitive science and literary theory from the mid-1950s into the 1990s. The comments augment the list in useful ways.

One of my attempts argue that literary studies harbors two very different conceptions of itself. In this post I oppose an ethnographic approach, invoking the proverbial Martian anthropologist, to the guardian of aesthetic value (not a phrase I use in the essay). The latter is concerned about upholding and advancing the value and authority of the canonical texts while the former studies what’s there – high, low, middle, popular, esoteric, what have you – because it is there, and people read it.

This is but a link post, to an article by David Bordwell on the state of film criticism. But the discussion is long and interesting, touching on matters of analysis, appreciation, and evaluation.

I reflect on J. Hillis Miller reflecting on his career. There’s a bemused note that, back in the old days at Johns Hopkins, when they regarded English literature as essential equipage for American citizenship, no one thought twice about the absence of American literature from the repertoire. These days the study of other media and cultures is moving into that role. Of the future, Miller says: “We need to make every effort to defend, in changed circumstances, the tradition that makes the humanities in the university the place especially charged with the combination of Bildung and Wissenschaft, ethical education and pure knowledge.”

Joseph Carroll gave in interview in which he speculates that literary Darwinism has the potential to remake the study of literature from top to bottom. I argue that, even if literary studies are remade in the next half-century, literary Darwinism will never be more than one school of thought, not the foundation of the new discipline.

I took two 3-panel cartoon strips by Nina Paley and added some simple commentary.

Holbo notes that some panelists at a recent conference were lamenting that it is impossible to craft an undergraduate course in the history of the novel that is both accurate about the novel and readable. Too many novels, the canon does not adequately reflect that history, even if many of those representative novels are mediocre, or worse. How reconcile the claims of value and validity? Or, to use Miller’s words, Bildung and Wissenschaft.

Deeper than even one’s epistemological preferences, there’s the matter of intellectual style. How do you like to think? – that’s what’s important in your choice of intellectual school or discipline. A brief meditation by me, and some interesting comments by others.

The question of whether or not literary criticism can or should be scientific is useless.

Brief commentary on Kenneth Burke’s “Literature as Equipment for Living.” I conclude: “As I was stepping into the shower this morning it hit me: This provides a space and a rationale for ethical criticism, aesthetic too.” And it follows from this that a text’s meanings must be multiple, otherwise it could not properly as equipment for living.

Literary Darwinism has been getting some interesting press. And it “Darwinian” emphasis seems to suit the public mood for science. Will it take over the public sphere?

The hermeneutic critic takes up a subjective stance within the world of literary culture and seeks to maintain and-or to change values and norms. The naturalist critic stands outside the world of literary culture and so has the possibility, which is not guaranteed, of objective knowledge about literary culture. A given critic can be a naturalist critic for one project and a hermeneutic critic for another.