If You Can't Beat Them, Join Them- and If They Can't Beat You, Join Them Anyway

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From Donald Kessey’s Chapter 7 Introduction “Historical Criticism II: Culture as Context” in Contexts for Criticism, page 410


“But deconstruction has also offered a more direct challenge to historical criticism.  By calling into question the very concepts of origin, telos, and cause, deconstruction has threatened to deconstruct the historian’s as well as the metaphysician’s enterprise.”


I found this thought to be laughable, not because I think this is impossible, but because of the idea that it puts forth.  We are, through criticism, trying to better, or even correctly, explain a literary text, yet one form of criticism can not only be based on or can be a reaction to another (i.e. structuralism and poststructuralism), but it can tear it apart so that it is no longer valid.  If critics of every school suggest that their way is the correct way to evaluate a text, then how can one school tear apart another?  Yes, there can and should be inconsistencies, but the above idea would seem to suggest that deconstruction/poststructuralism is “better” than historical criticism because it can tear apart its logic.  Perhaps this is the reason that many deconstructivists/poststructuralists write a sort of disclaimer somewhere in their essays, basically refuting their own work, ensuring that they are not targets of their own thought.   


Yet here, Kessey says that the new historical critics have ideas that “they have taken over formalism, structuralism, and poststucturalism” (410).  By incorporating the ideas that can tear apart their theories, they can now hold their own against other popular critical schools today, almost like takeovers courtesy of the Romans.  Not that there is anything completely wrong with this idea, but it just validates what all of us have been saying since we began this class-none of the critical schools can really be separated.


See what others have to say about Keesey's introduction to Cultural Criticism.

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