Sunday, January 11, 2004


Critical Categories, Some Clarification

First of all, thanks to those of you who have responded so far. Keep the responses coming--the list is still quite short, and I know there's more stuff out there that I'm unaware of, particularly in the post-1960 category.

I want to clarify what I mean by "sensible," and while I don't have time right now to answer in full the debate that has occured here and here, I will be posting a lengthy reply/statement sometime this week. As you may have guessed, the term has begun.

When I say "sensible," I am talking primarily about criticism that can be used as a tool--that presents a methology for reading literature (or any text) that can be used by the reader without the necessity of adopting a particular ideology or adopting wholesale the subjective viewpoint of the critic (as so many Foucauldians do). Yes, yes, everything is ideology. Go ahead and blog on that. I'll still be here. What it should be grounded in is knowledge. Real knowledge. Not politically motivated fabrications, like radical social constructionism, but real knowledge. Hence my interest in cognitive psychology. Leftist nonsense notwithstanding, cognitive psychology has gained real knowledge about the human mind--the way it thinks, the way it produces language, and so forth--that demolishes a great deal of postmodern philosophy. In the past, philosophy has been required to reformulate itself as the human race (not just Western culture) has gained new knowledge; for some reason, the pomos think they are exempt from this, because they have "problematized the (Western) discourse of science." Uh-huh. Galileo's on the phone, Pope Pomo. Sooner or later, you'll need to acknowledge that the earth does revolve around the sun, and perhaps issue an apology.

But, I get ahead of myself. More on this later this week.

I'm trying to organize this list of criticism, to develop some categories so people unfamiliar with criticism can also use the bibliography. For example, I've divided the 20th century into pre- and post-1960s criticism. In the pre-1960s category, I've put most of what people have suggested into two sub-categories: New Criticism and Russian Formalism. But there's other stuff I'm not sure what to do with. Auerbach's Mimesis, for example.

It's even more difficult in the post-1960s. Bloom's Anxiety of Influence. What exactly do we call a work like this? In some ways, it takes an intertextual approach, but what exactly do we call it? Perhaps we need to create a new list of categories--sensible categories--for criticism that doesn't fall into the schools defined largely by ideology and/or identity politics.

Perhaps I obsess too much over categories. I could simply leave it at the very broad categories, but I want the list to be user friendly. I've also considered soliciting annotations, to help guide potential readers to works that will help them to formulate their own ideas, rather than adopting someone else's viewpoint wholesale, as so many theoretical readings do (and as I've already remarked above--but I'd like to hammer this point home). I'm definitely NOT looking for things to "apply" to literature; I'm looking for knowledge that readers can bring with them and use to unpack the text, or to create a dialogue with it. A Bloom-inspired monologue is no more the act of an individual reader (unless it's Bloom) than a Foucault-inspired monologue.

So, email me with more suggestions for the list of works itself, category suggestions, and annotations, if you feel like taking the time. Email address, as always, is to the right.

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