The Emperor Redressed: Critiquing Critical Theory

By Dwight Eddins | Go to book overview

THE POETIC FALLACY

PAISLEY LIVINGSTON

ACADEMIC LITERARY CRITICS often fall between stools. They want to be artists, but at the same time, they want to be scholars, theorists, and even philosophers. They want to display and be admired for talents that are essentially literary, but they also want their claims and results to be taken very seriously, first, as earnest and fruitful research within the academy and, second, as effective cultural and social criticism. Acting on all of these goals at once, critics sometimes confuse the distinct methods, procedures, and norms pertaining to what are at bottom very different activities, and they thereby fail to do a good job of any one of them. We can use the term "poetic fallacy" to refer to the conflation of the tasks, standards, and practices, respectively, of literary research and literary art. My goal in speaking of the poetic fallacy is not solely the negative one of amplifying a criticism of poststructuralism, for I also want to delineate some of the conceptual bases of alternatives to that kind of writing. Getting clear on some of our assumptions about the tasks and standards of literary research and criticism is, I think, one step in that direction.

I shall set the stage for my discussion of the poetic fallacy by evoking an example. I have chosen an influential and frequently praised essay by Jacques Derrida , "La mythologie blanche: La métaphore dans le texte philosophique," first published in 1971 in a literary-critical journal called Poétique. The example is, I admit, a bit dated, but I am confident that my criticisms would hold equally well for various other works by Derrida and his followers, including, of course, his notorious Glas, but also the more recent poetical forays into a range of serious political and scientific issues, such as the politics of European unification, AIDS, and the nuclear threat. I also think the poetic fallacy is often committed by various authors whose work is associated with the trend in criticism known as "new historicism," but I shall not document or defend this claim here.

Derrida "White Mythology" opens with a section labeled "Exergue," the first paragraph of which reads as follows: "De la philosophie, la rhétorique. D'un volume, à peu près, plus ou moins--faire ici une fleur, l'extraire, la monter, la laisser, plutôt, monter, se faire jour--se détournant comme d'elle-même, révolutée, telle fleur grave--apprenant à cultiver, selon le calcul d'un lapidaire,

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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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