(un)common ground

a commonplace book

No Position Free of Theory

[T]here is no position free of theory, not even the one called ‘common sense.’

Leitch et al., The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (2001)

A particularly poignant statement. If there is no position free of theory, then it makes sense to make rigorous pains to discern and understand those theories. The study of literature is as much an effort in the demystification of it as it is the celebration of it. “English” types or “Bookish” types may be characterized by “the love of literature,” that is, the love of reading or the pleasure of fiction or poetry or whatever–but why? And why still do some of these types challenge the value of literary theory and criticism, of “overthinking” things, of challenging presuppositions? I tend to appreciate Leitch et al.’s answer, which begins with the quote above. They continue:

Taken together, the antitheorists themselves adhere to very different, often contradictory understandings of literature and interpretation. Such conflict points to the vitality, the excitement, and the complexity of the field of theory and criticism, whose expansive universe of perennial issues and problems engages ideas not only about literature, language, interpretation, genre, style, meaning, and tradition but also about subjectivity, ethnicity, race, gender, class, culture, nationality, ideology, institutions, and historical periods.

Literature does not exist outside the human experience, but must be taken into account as part and parcel of it. The value is not always in the conclusions some literary theorists or critics make; it’s in the questions they ask. And what is “good” literature but that which asks the right questions of its readers?


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This entry was posted on January 29, 2016 by and tagged , , , .
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