In spite of the recent discussion of the topic in the New York Times, I realize there is something antiquarian about my urge to think aloud about the nature of literary criticism. The decline of that role in society probably matters only to a fairly small caste of humanistically inclined readers. The implications of the decline, however, should matter to everyone.
Budgets for higher education are shrinking in many places. What kinds of cuts draw blood, and which ones have histrionic value?
Since my last post I've been thinking about the validity of the idea and the practice of literary criticism in a culture that often looks elsewhere for interpretation—and even more, that values expression over interpretation.
Who will read a literary criticism engaged with the real world?
In the past few years, I've noticed a surge of conversation about the growing irrelevance of literature in the academy.
More's Utopia, like the humanist ideology it represents, celebrates dialogue—it is probably not going too far even to say that the fiction fetishizes dialogue. And yet, the depiction of Utopia is notably monological, for reasons that bear on both humanism of this moment and on the emergence of prose fiction as a vehicle for ideological critique.
In his dissertation "Medial Situations and Generic Possibility in the Long Eighteenth Century," Colin Moore argues that the picaresque fiction is predicated on a basic communicative situation that he calls "an encounter with a stranger," and that this condition in turn determines the nature of time and space in such a fiction. That is, each episode is a "one-time" event, and the landscape of the fiction is a ribbon of road on which the narrator and the reader cannot stop or go backward.
Thomas More's Utopia (1516) is an odd but inescapable model for early modern European and transatlantic prose fiction, including the first novels. In the next few weeks I will reflect here on how an aspect of More's fictional commonwealth has a predictive power over later fictions: that is, what cannot be seen, done, or said in Utopia.
I've been thinking about Machiavelli's obdurate man, Walter de Brienne, the Duke of Athens who ruled Florence in 1342 and became the proverbial immovable ruler of Renaissance thought. What made him obdurate?