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February 2, 2007

EL312: Ms. Historical Hub-bub's Big Debut: the 20th Century

I start wondering what was in the water at the beginning of the 20th century when I read stuff like this:

Inquiries into writers' intimate personal lives and into their social and intellectual backgrounds continue to be the focus of much classroom discussion, continue to be published by academic and commercial publishers, continue to form the bulk of what is called "literary study." ... Although the historical context has been the most heavily cultivated one in the past century, in the previous 23 is was the least.

We're doomed now, what with the commercial end taking a share of the market in this.

To me, it seems that if literary study/criticism existed BEFORE Ms. Historical Hub-bub showed up on red carpets with rhinestone sunglasses and more contacts than Bausch & Lomb, it can still exist without it (even though it's practically a fixture in the field now). What is so bothersome to me about this form of criticism is that while historical/genetic criticism focuses on facts about the author's life/relationships/and age, it's impossible to state facts about the story.

I see it like putting facts into the literary machine that can only spit guesstimates. Saying that history, which is somewhat scientific (especially if one is researching the people of an age, and the study becomes anthropology, which is a science), can provide clean-cut answers for literary works doesn't seem fruitful without some other kind of criticism to assist in holding up those claims. Shredding historical facts into possibilities makes the information just as likely to be true as other forms of criticism. Am I right?

It's not fair that we're the products of only having been taught in high school to examine authors when learning their works. I'm kind of bitter about this. I wish that I would have been exposed to some of this other stuff earlier so that I might have a better grasp on it and be able to apply it with gusto...

If this kind of criticism wasn't important before the 20th century, why can't we get away from it now?

Keesey, Ch 1 (Introduction) -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

Posted by KarissaKilgore at February 2, 2007 11:21 AM


Well, I'm not so sure about people at the beginning of the 20th century, but I think I can make a good case for historical criticism.

Look at how a lot of people are nowadays in regards to celebrities. People just HAVE to know what Britney Spears has been doing(my fiance actually does inform me what she's doing every day, though he won't give me his source, nor explain why he cares), or where Paris Hilton shopped last. People want to know about people--especially those with coveted lives.

Similarly, when reading a text, there's just this need to know something about the author, if for no other reason, than just to know (I guess in case a question it's a Jeopardy questions someday).

Bottom line: yes, Emily Dickinson may not have got out much, but the fact that her poem deals with death doesn't mean that it was her way of saying she wanted to be dead. (Or maybe it does, but the bottom bottom line is that we'll never know.)

Posted by: Valerie Masciarelli at February 4, 2007 9:59 PM

Oh, don't get my wrong. I actually like looking at history in relation to a text... I just wonder why it all-of-a-sudden became in vogue. Kind of bizarre, I guess. Maybe it has to do with that idea of looking at history so we don't repeat it?

Placing estimations on what's going on in a text seems a bit meaningless, though, when other deeper considerations can be made when it comes to criticism. There is just so much more to look at, and I think that if we regulate ourselves to the author and the time--arbitrary factors in any text since someone wrote it at some point in history--we might miss a whole mess of other interesting points.

I like to think that, as a definition, historical criticism differs from that of the genetic or author-based criticism. I have no idea if I'm even remotely correct in that statement, but I'm willing to hear what others have to say.

Posted by: Karissa at February 7, 2007 12:13 AM

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