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Anxious gatekeeping

Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"I Don't Like Literary Criticism"

My colleague told me this the other day. My first response was "Well, then you chose the right profession." In other words, someone's who writes literary criticism, teaches others to write it, edits a journal of literary criticism, etc... My second reaction was something along the lines of "I, too, dislike it." (Marianne Moore). The obligation to got through novels and plays and what-not, analyzing them, when what we are really interested in, often, is elsewhere, leads to tedium. We all know that, if a book or article is not good, we can always say that the analyses are perceptive, even if they point out things in a routine way that just about any reader might notice. It's damning with faint praise (Alexander Pope). Really, I don't need even a prominent literary critic, like Helen Vendler, to point out things about a poem I wouldn't have noticed on my own. Even if (when) she is very good, the thrill is gone (B.B. King).

I'm not suggesting that we should be doing something other the literary criticism, but that we shouldn't hold on to patterns that just don't serve our needs any more.

4 comments:

profacero said...

I get bored to death reading that kind of analysis, too, although for some hard poets every explication de texte is welcome. I guess this is why "theory" became such a big deal even when it was flaky.

Vance Maverick said...

Do you mean that you're practiced enough at noticing things that you anticipate most of a Vendler's points -- or (more interestingly) that "pointing things out" is a boring mode of writing, regardless of predictability?

Professor Zero said...

Vance - for me I guess I'd say both. Just pointing things out, I don't even allow that little in upper division college courses.

Jonathan said...

I would also say both. Also, belaboring a point that is obvious while missing the subtle ones, or reaching for the easy but ultmately wrong points.