Literary Criticism Revisited . . .
Dactyl Foundation for the Arts and Humanities
Some readers may recall my post on literary criticism versus literature from a bit over a week ago, but if not, perhaps this will jog some memories:
Criticism generally tries to clarify precisely what those meanings are, but to do so, the criticism itself must remain as unambiguous as possible, and this explains why we do not "read criticism . . . as a literary work."I considered this distinction unassailable, but it has now been assailed, in an email, by a student of Professor Fletcher (image above) named Bruce Carroll:
I was just reading your Gypsy Scholar post of April 27 on Eli Park Sorensen's question: Why don't we read criticism like literature? You are right that the purpose of much criticism is to clarify ambiguity (if we can think of an interpretation as clarifying, which I suppose we can).Readers -- and Mr. Carroll himself -- will need to clarify this for me. Does mimesis in criticism mean that the critic mimics what is being analyzed? And how is Professor Fletcher's thesis a counter-example to mimesis?
But as I write onward in the dissertation (I will defend in spring '14), I have noticed just how mimetic argumentation is. Not unlike fiction, argument too is a mimesis or imitation: of the argument the writer has apprehended and, very much like fiction, an imitation of any reality it attempts to make apparent to the reader.
I am thinking here of how dependent argumentation is on the thesis, the chief claim that points to the reality the argument seeks to clarify. And yet by its nature the thesis is so often too constraining to wholly account for the multi-dimensions of a well-crafted (read: ambiguous) fiction, or an area of culture or history, or some combination of all that the thesis would theorize on.
A counter-example to the rhetorical problem I am trying to clarify (and I admit it is not easily clarified) is the thesis of Angus Fletcher's recent Time, Space, and Motion in the Age of Shakespeare, a book about the influence of Galileo's scientific theory of motion on Elizabethan writers. His thesis:
The main question my argument raises and inevitably leaves standing at the doorstep of explanation, is this: Shall we claim that the verbal arts are radically separate from mathematics and science, or is there an intellectual and cultural manifold in which they belong together, almost as twin components of the same discoveries? Despite all the difficulties in asserting this latter position, I believe it is the better one.I asked Prof Fletcher (he's on my dissertation committee) about his choice of the figure of a manifold to capture the subject of his book. He told me simply that a manifold is multi-faceted and moving, and so provides a liberal figure in which to situate an argument. His thesis, then, more accurately reflects the reality of the artistic, scientific, and cultural circumstance he is trying to make clear to his reader.
For what it's worth (which may be nothing), I think we not only read criticism as literature, but in terms of criticism's mimetic character, I think we are writing it as literature, too, if more so than we are aware.
As I await clarification, a thought occurs to me, namely, that the essay form is often considered a branch of literature, so to the extent that literary criticism overlaps with the essay form, it can also be considered literature.
Now that I've assailed myself, I'll again retreat into waiting . . .