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« First Day's Index, Fall Semester 2007 | Main | Zoological observation for the day »

August 28, 2007



1a. people seem to have KNOWN all kinds of things about LITERATURE!
b. northrop frye! woo hoo!
c. psychoanalytic readings of things
d. myth and symbolism stuff
e. textual criticism!
f. rhetorical analysis of e.g. point of view, indirect narration
g. literary-historical analysis of texts
h. shakespeare studies
i. fiddling with application of traditional literary categories (genre, tragedy, irony, hero, epic, whatever) to recently canonical or contemporary writing
j. 'new criticism' / close reading
k. multilingual!
l. metrical analysis, zzzzzz
m. white as hell
n. about literature, more or less

Donna Campbell

1. Psychoanalytic, Jungian/myth and symbol, New Criticism, Northrop Frye, William Empson, etc. Also: lots of "great tradition" "because I am a critical god, I can assert judgments without proof," as in all those statements about "robust nature imagery."
2. Reading _Seven Types of Ambiguity_, _The Well-Wrought Urn_, _The Great Tradition_, etc.
3. Leslie Fiedler, Henry Nash Smith (the latter is almost always cited with heavy scorn).


I'm have the impression that marxist and psychoanalytic criticism were done but were not accepted much by more traditional scholars, who were big into empiricism, i.e., research of historical contexts and close reading of texts -- as well as sweeping discussions of large questions like genre, poetics, etc. It was the 1950s, after all. But I have to admit I'm not sure if my impression is correct and would like to have someone else's view on this.


I'm glad you asked this -- reading some hundred-year-old stuff lately has got some gears working and I hope you're planning to post at length about the question. I don't own a field, yet, but here's my experience with Renaissance and Shakespeare stuff (I feel pretentious claiming a field -- at what point, do you think, you get to "have" one that merits a possessive?):

1. a) People in the past thought X, because of Y, end of story. This has something peripheral to do with Literature, capital L.
b) Screw what people in the past thought, X and Y are True of Literature, capital T, capital L. We know this because of our own extraordinary capacity for inductive reasoning based on close reading, and we convince you of it by our deftly manipulative and deservedly lofty Royal We sort of tone.

2. Introductions and notes to pre-WWII Oxford editions of stuff, Northrop Frye, William Empson, lots of vaguely angry contemporary (to me) scholars still wrestling with old ghosts.

3. E. M. W. Tillyard (scoffingly), E. K. Chambers, increasingly a resurgence of tentative reverence toward various New Critics, those pesky critics whom no one can decide to put emphatically in either the Primary or the Secondary box (Johnson, Johnson, Johnson), various editors, compilers, varioriumizers.


1. is really almost impossible to answer if we're willing to credit the past with just as much diversity of purpose and opinion as the present, but I'd venture a few generalizations like "less philosophical, more insular, but generally better-read within its narrow horizons." All this presumes we're talking about the Anglophone academy exclusively (and largely even just the discipline of English narrowly construed), because there is a lot of literary criticism that would destroy all these stereotypes dating from well before 1960 in its original language (think of Lukacs, Benjamin, Bakhtin, Auerbach).

2. Lots of Leavis, the standard New Critics, and a penchant for rifling through the dusty parts of the stacks looking for treasures like Bernard Smith's Forces in American Criticism among shelves full of the justly forgotten.

3. In American literature, F.O. Matthiessen remains a touchstone (though almost no one reads anything but American Renaissance). And people do still mention Vernon Louis Parrington from time to time.

The Constructivist

1. Setting the patterns/positions/debates we still repeat today.
2. Reading a good deal of Hawthorne criticism from the 1850s to the present.
3. If Hawthorne criticism is any indication, we should be paying a lot of attention to folks that precede the Americanists mentioned here.


JSTOR, I suspect, has eliminated much whiggery in this area.


2. & 3. Russian formalists, Mihail Bakhtin, Erich Auerbach, Joseph Frank.

I like the old stuff and the students seem to find it an easy way to approach more recent (and more idiosyncratic/complex) literary criticism and theory.

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