Monday, September 12, 2005


I just helped a college student organize his thoughts on Yellow Wallpaper.

Oh my goodness. Ten years ago, some friends explained to me the point of literary analysis and criticism. I still don't really get it. I like to read a good story, and I'm not so thick that I can't read the subtext or understand cultural implications. I'll even read lit crit if it helps me think and understand.

But mostly it doesn't help me think and understand. Mostly I find it pretentious.

I feel the same way about prescriptive grammar. I've been a hundred pages into "Eats, Shoots & Leaves" for the last three months. I got tired of the sloppy analysis. Descriptive, engaging, but not explanatory or helpful.

So it's funny to me that the meat and potatoes of most of my friends from grad school was literature and prescriptive grammar. The romance department, especially, was terribly unimpressed with the astronomical levels of linguistic theory that I was swimming in. One dude in the spanish dept even told me once that linguists were just trying to sell their textbooks. The fact that he was a hoplessly stagnant teacher was telling.

The funniest thing of all is how important that 10 years ago bs is still so important to my identity.


bitchphd said...

The point of literary criticism is that metaphor is a form of thought: and analyzing how it works is a way of understanding thought.

john patrick said...

Understand one human expression, maybe.... maybe... but thought? That's a conceit. In any case, litterature is not a very representative sample of human thought. It seems to me it's just an available sample of human thought.

In any case, it's not really the philosophy of literary criticism that puzzles me (although it does). I'm more challenged by the level of arbitrary that I've seen it reach; an arbitrary exercise in politics.

It's one thing that the human mind can percieve order from chaos. It's another thing to say that that percieved order actually exists.