Where Is the Perfect Formula for Literary Criticism?

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"The True corrective in either case is close, careful analysis with attention to 'the most minute formal details.'"


-From Keesey’s introduction to Russ McDonald’s “Reading The Tempest” Contexts for Criticism p. 99


This quote of McDonald’s reminded me of Hirsch’s arguments a bit, especially because both authors mention that “coherence” and context should be employed when critiquing a work of literature.  However, while McDonald cites the use of too much context in other critics’ work, Hirsch cites the use of too much coherence.  Where does the perfect formula exist, or does it exist at all?


I really liked when, in class, Angela brought up the fact that criticism seemed to be just like Philosophy.  I really have to agree with her; however I think I like the fact that criticism is like Philosophy.  When I was younger, and still a little now, I hated Math because there always had to be only one correct answer.  I really only chose to be an English major rather than a Math major for this reason.  I like it when practically anything goes.


I think, though, that this creates a barrier between many people and literary criticism.  We are told that there is a correct way to do it, and then we are taught that there are an infinite number of correct ways that often conflict with one another, but we have to know how to do them all, and we are supposed to find the one that works best for us, but we should always read a text with all of them in mind, and yet some schools of criticism only fit certain texts while others can be applied to most texts…  As the list of contradictions goes on it begins to sound more and more like adults in the Charlie Brown cartoons. 


However, I think if we all keep on going, we will find that it will get easier and that the contradictions won’t matter so much.  Sometimes it is very hard, or even scary, to complete a task when one does not have to work towards only one correct answer, but when this situation does arise, we just need to remember that even though we may come up with answers that completely conflict with one another, we can still all be right. 


See what others had to say about McDonald's "Reading The Tempest" 



I agree with you about the fact that everything seems a contradiction. I think that it is difficult for me as an English Major to stop thinking so mathematical. Sometimes I love the fact that there are so many right answers, but sometimes it drives me up a wall that I feel that whatever I do will never be wrong, but not fully right either. Sometimes I like to see things in black and white. I think that I will eventually have that turning point, though, where I can finally say, "Wow! I get it!" But, until then, I will continue to be frustrated, but that's ok.

Greta Carroll said:

Yes, the contradictions certainly are present. Sometimes I just feel like I am going around and around in a giant circle. Author intention is weak, yet we have to write a paper with it. If there is no right answer, then why are some schools of criticism better? But you know, I really like how you bring up that part of this is just that it is scary for there not to be a right answer. It really makes one call everything into questions and really think about everything, even what the definition of literature actually is. And you’re right, if one really considers it, these contradictions don’t matter so much. Just because two things are contradictory do not make either thing wrong. I may not get along with a certain person, but that doesn’t make that person bad and I may even admire parts of their personality—I think that’s kind of how literary criticism is.

Yes, I love this blog entry. I think most of us are feeling this way. I, for one, have a difficult time when I don't know what I'm doing. Literary criticism is frustrating because there is no right answer, but there are wrong answers. I agree with Greta too, and I like her comparison of not liking a certain person doesn't make that person bad. It is just a conflict of personality, as these different criticisms are a conflict. There is much to be discovered in learning these different attitudes. I hope that soon I get that "Ah huh!" moment.

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