(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

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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