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March 27, 2007

Don Keesey: Poststructuralism...criticism...and other isms. Ism.

"It is very difficult to examine the lens you see with, to look at the instrument you are looking through."

As per usual, I find myself liking Keesey and his strange introductions. I don't want to say that this quote stuck out like a sore thumb, because that provides a negative connotation; rather, this quote resonated with me, at least a little, insofar that it describes the feeling of discomfort I have with lit crit.

As Dr. Jerz made perfectly clear in Newswriting and in this course, it is imperative to state one's biases in a subject-matter, but the problem is knowing one possesses a bias to begin with and then not only acknowledging it, but attempting to work around it.

The same goes for lit crit, or so I've found. As the semester moves along, too, each different theory blends more and more with the others until reading a work is no longer enjoyable because so much time is spent attempting to identify what lenses we are reading a text with and if that criticism is valid. Keesey makes the point that it is extremely difficult to really identify what lenses we use, and then to examine them as an outsider is even more difficult.

The poststructuralists, it would seem, focus on the language of a work and what things "mean," or imply or signify. I remember back at Penn State I had a film class and we dissected "A Streetcar Named Desire" through semiotic criticism and since that day MS Word and Open Office give me a hard time because "semiotic" isn't a word they acknowledge (and no, Dr. Jerz, I honestly don't remember much of the discussion so don't look in my direction for this one).

Like our biases, though, I think Keesey touched on a very important issue - it is very difficult for us to acknowledge our tendencies to analyze in a certain way (as some of us pointed out we were "X" type of critic or "Y" type of critic) and then it becomes even more difficult to explore the criticism, or any others, for that matter, and as such, we should look to signs and symbols and signifiers in the language and the structure itself.

Wow. That totally rambled on forever and I don't even know if I made a valid point.

Posted by KevinMcGinnis at March 27, 2007 12:19 AM


Kevin, because you revel in irony (almost to the point of cynicism), you enjoy pop culture references and you love playing with words and ideas, I can see in you evidence that the cultural values of postmodernism have had an affect on who you are and your perspective on the world. Could that be why you were so attracted to writing about the difficulty of looking at one's own lenses?

I can sympathize with your feelings about losing your ability to enjoy literature, but remember what I have said before about the zookeeper not getting to choose to work only with cute animals. Even if you love animals, your skill as an animal handler is valuable precisely because you know how to handle the dangerous animals; because you can understand and explain the behavior of the confusing animals; and you can appreciate the qualities of the animals that are not cute and simple.

You can always read whatever makes you happy; but that won't make you well-rounded and won't give you practice examining how literature wields its power to convey emotions beyond "enjoyment" -- including rage, despair, hope, anguish, enlightenment, and so forth.

But I'm glad to see that you are using your blog to work through these initial reactions.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at March 27, 2007 11:51 AM

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