Wednesday, March 4, 2009

learning the "criticism of literature"

These quotes sum up the misconceptions of high school English for me

Page 6
“The notion that the poet necessarily is or could be the definitive interpreter of himself or of the theory of literature belongs to the conception of the critic as a parasite.”

Page 17
“The absurd quantum formula of criticism, the assertion that the critic should confine himself to “getting out” of a poem exactly what the poet may vaguely be assumed to have been aware of “putting in” is one of the much slovenly illiteracy that the absence of systematic criticism has allowed to grow up.”

“Try to figure out what the author would say if he were here”, was a recurring theme when studying literary works in high school. The main focus was trying to discover what we feel the author has hidden. Frye tells us that this notion is wrong; we (well the critics and our culture and history) are the ones that shape what we read. We get a meaning from the work that resonates with us, and not the author of the piece. It all comes back to the idea that in the end the work of literature is for the benefit of the reader not the author. Frye tells us that by thinking of critics as parasites we are just deceiving ourselves. I never thought of critics as having a method, and input of their own, well I guess they did, but I never explicitly thought of it that way. I always assumed that if a critic came to a conclusion that differs from the author’s intention, it had to be something accidental.
On page 11, Frye addresses the difficulty of “teaching literature”, and this was an idea I always struggled with. This could be one of the many roots for my dislike of studying literature. The idea of literature always seemed so abstract, and I feel this is because of the distinction between literature as an object versus a subject. I always saw Literature as a subject, so like trying to study nature, I had no idea what exactly that was. Knowing that what we are studying is the “criticism of literature” makes the whole idea more concrete. The fact that what we are really studying has been given a name makes it easier to wrap ones mind around. By criticizing a piece, and reading for oneself how it has been criticized by other critics, we can see that work from different angles and consider what techniques works and what does not. Then when we go off to write a work of our own, we draw from these observations to form our own works.

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