Saturday, April 26, 2008

My last thoughts on reading

In my experience both reading and discussing literary theory ("literary theory" here simply meaning ideas about what literature is and how we approach it, as opposed to discussion of actual specific literary works), I've seen a certain form of discourse.  Typically, proponents of an idea make universal, absolute, and rigid pronouncements of what literature is and how we should approach it.  What counts as discourse is merely crashing these grand pronouncements into each other.  Meaningful discourse--which for me means some recognition of subjectivity and plurality--rarely occurs.  I've encountered this tendency toward rigidity both in critics I admire and critics I don't.

As a student of literature and theory, it can be enjoyable to encounter, and consider, these absolute pronouncements.  As a participant, it is significantly less enjoyable.   In other subjects (sports, social issues), I've generally started to avoid the sort of contentious discussions that have no hope of moving anywhere.  Perhaps I will also make that decision about literary theory. 

I assert nothing but the prerogative of the individual reader.  The purpose of literature is whatever the individual reader chooses it to be (which means if you say "there's no meaning in literature but X," of course you'll be right: you'll see nothing else).

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