(un)common ground

a commonplace book

What Does Literary Theory Do?

Literary theory is a negative movement of thought mapping the ways in which it is legitimate to be suspicious of communication. [It] is an antithetical counterforce to that which is true, posited as true or spoken as true.

Prof. Paul Fry of Yale University

Notes:
LOVE this definition of literary theory. So much packed into this statement.

“Negative” seems like it could be taken in the sense of negate-ive, as theory relates to suspicion of appearances or the negation of mystery…(?) or in the sense of a photographic negative, putting in harsh relief the contours of a text.

The mention of suspicion brings to mind Umberto Eco’s William of Baskerville from The Name of the Rose: 

I did not then know what Brother William was seeking, and to tell the truth, I still do not know today, and I presume he himself did not know, moved as he was solely by the desire for truth, and by the suspicion–which I could see he always harbored–that the truth was not what was appearing to him at any given moment.

Note that literary theory need not be taken as a counterforce to truth as such, but as a force for suspicion of assumed truth or truth claims. But then theory is not simply skepticism, but rather a rigorous study of what language does and why.

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This entry was posted on March 30, 2016 by and tagged .
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