Method is a digression.
Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German
WHAT IS LITERARY CRITICISM? I begin this preface and this whole book by posing this exhausted and exhausting question as if it had never been asked before. Indeed, I find that no less than a hubristic ruse of tabula rasa is needed to revive and to think this question at all (the reasons why one should want to revive it and to think it anew in the first place will, I hope, become clear below). This question could have been posed differently. As if inquiring after the health of a loved one who has been very ill for a long time, and who has been absent from one's daily life but all the more present because of it in one's daily thoughts, one could have asked: how is literary criticism? Or, one could have asked: when and where was literary criticism? And in this latter avatar of that question, literary criticism would have been marked as the name of a spatio-temporal locus that no longer exists as such and that has long since been evacuated of its autochthonous populations and colonized by more properly postmodern settlers and usurpers, such as, for example, theory, cultural studies, or area studies. For the time being, however, I will proceed as if this question had nothing