January 28, 2007

The Right Way and The . . . Other Way

To put it another way, although we may agree that there is no complete, definitive, and absolutely correct interpretation of a poem, it does not necessarily follow that there are no better or worse interpretations, interpretations more or less complete, more or less accurate, more or less approximating a "best" reading.
Donald Keesey (Contexts for Criticism)

As Donald Keesey points out in Contexts for Criticism, there are as many critics of literature as there are readers of literature. So in the words of, well, I not sure who originally, but someone, "Everyone's a critic." This opens the door for close competition.
The task that Keesey is presenting is the idea of not only being a critic, but figuring which critical interpretation is appropriate for the specific piece of literature. In other words, finding the one that makes the most sense for your interpretation of the literature. It is crucial that not only does the critical interpretation make sense with the literature, but that it also makes sense with the reader. Words of wisdom can be passed down for generations, but if they don't make sense to the person that hears them, they loose the wisdom and are just words. For lack of a better metaphor, if your glasses have just a slightly wrong prescription, you can still see through them - just not as well with a different prescription.
Fitting the best critical interpretation with a particular piece doesn't sound like an easy task, and as Keesey pointed out, it takes practice.

Posted by Diana Geleskie at January 28, 2007 11:09 PM | TrackBack

Funny, Diana; I used a similar quip on Valerie's post. I said that lit. crit. seems to be like going to the eye doctor...

It is like that, though. Not all -isms will work for someone, and not one will work for everyone. We've just got to feel our way through this, I think.

Nice observations.

Posted by: Karissa at January 29, 2007 12:16 AM

As Karissa calls them, with so many "-isms" out there to use when reading literature, it's daunting to try and work the appropriate ones into a piece of literature. What if I apply a feminist reading to piece that obviously deserves a reader-response? Does that make me wrong since, according to Keesey, we are all critics (and that's ok)?

Posted by: Nessa at January 29, 2007 8:25 AM

I agree with Vanessa on this. I don't ever think there is a wrong way to criticize a piece of writing. If we are all critics, then we must be educated with literature and close reading that allows for us to better our judgement on how to criticize a specific work.
I also think that the reason there are so many critical theories is due to the many different readers that will be reading literature.
If there was only one theory, it would seem extremely boring to criticize.

Diana, I think that the reason we also are required to take this class is to help use determine what kind of critic we are and then use that in some readings while also using others that are appropriate for the piece of work we are learning.

Posted by: Denamarie at January 29, 2007 4:06 PM

I like your connection to words of wisdom. When I was writing my Shakespeare paper, I can't tell you how many times I had no idea what the critic was saying about the work I was researching. I'm sure that at the time some of the criticism I was reading made sense to the generation that it was being written in, however now that our slang and linguistics have changed for the 21st century I am finding that the words we use now used have a different word to express the exact same phrase.

Great observations!

Posted by: Tiffany at January 30, 2007 11:46 AM
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