The Emperor Redressed: Critiquing Critical Theory

By Dwight Eddins | Go to book overview

WHAT IS A HUMANISTIC CRITICISM?

M. H. ABRAMS

Grau, theurer Freund, ist alle Theorie Und grün des Lebens goldner Baum.

--MEPHISTOPHELES, IN GOETHE'S PAUST I

THE ANNOUNCEMENT FOR this symposium entitles it "Critiquing Critical Theory." The brief statement that follows indicates that "critical theory" is used to identify the innovative forms of literary criticism, each based on a radical reconsideration of language and discourse, that since about 1960 have emerged in an accelerating sequence. The theories range from structuralism, through deconstruction and other poststructural schemes and interpretive practices, to some types of the current New Historicism. And the term "critiquing" is used to signify a scrutiny by scholars and literary critics who, the announcement says, have "serious reservations" about the assumptions and sweeping conclusions of all these theories, at least in their radical forms.

A critique is not a polemic. Many of the exchanges hitherto on these issues have been in a heated rhetoric of charges and countercharges that clashes with the ideals of reasonableness and civility that one would like to profess in humane studies. I want instead to open this symposium with a brief overview of some recent critical theories in the spirit that John Stuart Mill, in his great essays comparing Bentham to Coleridge, attributed to Coleridge. Bentham asked of any doctrine "Is it true?" then judged it to be true only if it accorded with his prior opinions and, when it did not, attributed the doctrine to selfish interests or malign purposes. My intention is to try, as Mill said of Coleridge, to look at some critical theories "from within," to ask what features and considerations have made them seem not only credible but compelling to highly intelligent and knowledgeable proponents, and to indicate the kinds of insights such theories have achieved that those of us who take an alternative intellectual stand would do well to heed. But I shall also indicate why, nonetheless, current theories, as applied in literary criticism, seem to me inadequate for the litera-

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The Emperor Redressed: Critiquing Critical Theory
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Introduction 1
  • What is a Humanistic Criticism? 13
  • Notes 38
  • The End Of The Poststructuralist Era 45
  • The Current Polarization Of Literary Studies 62
  • Notes 77
  • Time and the Intelligentsia - A Patchwork in Nine Parts, with Loopholes 81
  • Notes 99
  • The Agony of Feminism - Why Feminist Theory is Necessary After All 101
  • Works Cited 116
  • Confessions of a Reluctant Critic Or, the Resistance to Literature 118
  • Deconstruction After the Fall 132
  • Notes 147
  • The Poetic Fallacy 150
  • Works Cited 165
  • Literary Theory And Its Discontents 166
  • Notes 198
  • Panel Discussion 199
  • Contributors 221
  • Index 223
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