Academic Fashions, Especially in the Humanities and Most Especially in Literary Criticism, Tend to Have a Short Shelf Life

By Neuhaus, Richard John | First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, December 2008 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Academic Fashions, Especially in the Humanities and Most Especially in Literary Criticism, Tend to Have a Short Shelf Life


Neuhaus, Richard John, First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life


Academic fashions, especially in the humanities and most especially in literary criticism, tend to have a short shelf life. Although they seem very long to those who have to live through them. There was the structuralist, poststructuralist, psychoanalytical (Freudian, Lacanian), historical materialist, Marxist, and no doubt several I've forgotten. Raymond Tallis reflects in the Times Literary Supplement on the latest entry, based on neuroscience and neurophysiology. He calls it neuro-lit-crit. He quotes Ernest Gellner, who said, "When a priest loses his faith, he is unfrocked; when critics lose theirs, they redefine their subject." I wish Gellner was right about that. There are too many instances of priests losing their faith and then redefining their subject, usually along psychotherapeutic or political lines. But I digress. "The literary critic as neuroscience groupie is part of a growing trend," writes Tallis. He takes up the case of A.S. Byatt, who purports to explain John Donne's poetry according to neuro-lit-crit. As in earlier lit-crit fads, understanding is replaced by "overstanding." "The capacious flame of reference in which the work is located--evident to the critic but not to the author--places the former in a position of knowing superiority vis-a-vis the latter. The work becomes a mere example of some historical, cultural, political, or other trend of which the author will have been dimly aware, if at all. The differences between one author and another are also minimized. Like hypochondriacs, theory-led critics find what they seek: So Jane Austen and the Venerable Bede are alike in representing the hegemony of the colonizer over the colonized, the powerful over the powerless, or the voiced over the voiceless; or in their failure to acknowledge the fictionality of the bourgeois fiction of the self.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Academic Fashions, Especially in the Humanities and Most Especially in Literary Criticism, Tend to Have a Short Shelf Life
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?