Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Literary criticism and the scientific method

I thought Polemical Introduction was going to be just like Literary Theory—long, with a lot of outside information that was too much for me to process. However, I found that it actually made quite a bit of sense and that I agreed with most of it. The only part that I have mixed feelings about is the suggestion that literary criticism is perhaps a science as well as an art.

I asked myself what my definition of science was—the first thing that came to mind was the scientific method. The scientific method has three basic steps: 1) observe phenomena in the world, 2) generate a hypothesis explaining the phenomena, and 3) test and validate the hypothesis. I think all science needs to fulfill these three steps. I suppose literary criticism is similar because a critic has to make observations while reading a piece of literature, and then has to generate some sort of explanation or analysis of his observations. However, it fails to meet the third criteria—it cannot test and validate the hypothesis. Unless, of course, the author was still alive and able to be questioned.

But then it’s stated that “part of the critic’s reason for feeling that poets can be properly assessed only after their death is that they are then able to presume on their merits as poets to tease him with hints of inside knowledge.” Without asking the author their intention, it is impossible to verify any hypothesis or explanation of literature—it is simply the critic’s opinion. It even says on page 27 “the argument [of the critic] has the great advantage of being irrefutable…” Therefore, I don’t think it can really be considered a science. Then again, there are plenty of people that reject the theory of evolution (in science a theory incorporates laws, facts, etc.--it is well supported by evidence) becauese they believe in Creationism, which has significantly less solid evidence than evolution.

On another note, I really liked the part that says “the reading of literature should, like prayer in the Gospels, step out of the talking world of criticism into the private and secret presence of literature. Otherwise the reading will not be a genuine literary experience, but a mere reflection of critical conventions, memories, and prejudices.” Though I think literary criticism is necessary, I do think that reading it ahead of the actual piece of literature takes away from the purity of reading. People should read something first, come up with their own opinions and explanations, and then read what others had to say.

No comments:

Post a Comment