30 mar. 2006

Many people think that the pressure to do something new in criticism is damaging--the demand for novelty and originality. After all, the argument goes, it's too much pressure to ask a young person to come up with an original approach to Dickens.

But what is the alternative? Doing something that's already been done?

I think there's a fallacy here: the idea that, with a limited canon, there are only so many things to be said about works of literature. Won't we run out of things to say after a certain point?

I have always felt the opposite: that hardly anything has been said about many, many authors, canonical or not. Plus, it is a fallacy to think that the number of authors is limited. There is very limited criticism on Clark Coolidge--a complex and major figure. I could think of maybe 100 other examples of things that are "understudied." And that's just me, off the top of my head.

5 comentarios:

Jordan dijo...

Here's the thing -- there is very little agreement on who the complex and major figures are.

Who's going to spend the time and energy to write about a bunch of writers "nobody knows" and "nobody cares about" without getting the what-am-I-doing jitters? Only a few brave and foolish souls, I'd wager.

This isn't to put down those souls or for that matter to argue that they're superior to the inactive majority. Just pointing out that this vertigo may play a part in discouraging new criticism.

Jonathan dijo...

I'm not talking about writing a dissertation about flarf, but about writers who have been around for 35 or 50 years in some cases. I'm sure there are aspects of Kerouac that haven't been explored. David thinks the main goal of criticism should be bringing to light things that aren't as well known. That could even be applied to canonical writers: lesser known aspects of their works.

Jordan dijo...

I'd think even with Kerouac the magnetic ego field of the professoriate would make any student feel like the unloved daughter in a pocket family drama - "why don't you write about a real novelist" etc -

In other words, the pressure to conform has to do precisely with the race for prestige - approval from the authorities - who, after all, are meting out the resources.

The conformity is the result of a political process.

Jonathan dijo...

No doubt. But then the idea that there is nothing left to write about is exposed as merely political epiphenomenon of the academic system. It wants novelty, but at the same time resists it.

Jordan dijo...

Double bind. Double blind.