EL 312: To be a critic or not to be a critic

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Keesey had a lot of interesting things to say but a couple remarkes caught my eye within his introduction. At one point he says "many theories of interpretation are based on the belief that we must look either to the author or the audience if we are to understand the meaning of the literary text." A few sentences later he says "other forms of critisim pursue the line in the opposite direction and fucus on the works effects rather than on its causes" and "meaning of literature results from the interaction of audience and work"

Is there really a right way to right way to look at literature in a critical fashion? How should we find the the true meaning of a literary piece?

In my own experiences I always like to get a better understanding of the author and where he or she might be coming from. I would think that his or her own experiences would effect a piece of writing.

I guess this work has me a little confused. If we aren't supposed to look to either the author or the audience where do we look?

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Sue, Keesey isn't trying to say that one or the other way is "right." He's giving an overview of a field, in which the experts have (and probably always will have) different opinions.

Remember the example that I gave in class of Shakespeare's comic Jewish villain, who 400 years later is played as a tragic hero. There is no big book with answers in the back that tell you the one, true, correct meaning of a work. That meaning changes over time, it changes based on who you are as a reader (a Jew who saw The Merchant of Venice in Elizabethan England would no doubt have found its "true" meaning very different than the nominally Christian audience that cheered when Shylock was forced to abandon his Jewish heritage).

After you have sampled multiple different perspectives, you'll be able to make a more informed choice about your own preferred methods. It's also worth observing a literary work that means nothing to you when you look at it with your preferred method might suddenly become more relevant if you look at it with a different perspective.

Karissa said:

I think that, if you look more closely at the quotes you've taken out, you'll see that you can answer your own question about where to look to as a starting point for criticism. It's good to consider the author and the audience, but what I see Keesey saying is that those are only the beginning. Those are the natural choices since they must exist for a piece of writing, but moving past who wrote it and for whom they wrote it, what is there to know?

One of my favorite ways to get a feeling for a text is to consider when it was written--not necessarily pairing that with the author's life, but seeing what things in history can be considered influences. (We saw that in Chaucer, and you even mentioned in class the other day my obsession with anachronistic readings, placing our value sets of current society onto that of the work or the author.) History is awesome, in my opinion, and studying literature helps me have a greater perspective on where our world has been all this time. But again--this is only one way of looking at things. I have a feeling we'll be up to our elbows in criticism by the end of class!

I think you're on to something, though, Sue. Just pursue it, and take a look around when you're considering these new forms of criticism--see what connections you can make. I know that I'm going to be surprised, and I think you will be, too. :)

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This page contains a single entry by published on January 28, 2007 12:19 PM.

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