Monday, April 27, 2009

"Against Readings"

From The Chronicle of Higher Education's Mark Edmundson:

"Schopenhauer tells us that all major artists ask and in their fashion answer a single commanding question: 'What is life?' The critic works to show how the author frames that query and how he answers it. Critics are necessary for this work because the answers that most artists give to major questions are indirect. Artists move forward through intuition and inference: They feel their way to their sense of things. The critic, at his best, makes explicit what is implicit in the work.

This kind of criticism is itself something of an art, not a science. You cannot tell that you have compounded a valid reading of Dickens any more than that you have compounded a valid novel or a valid play. When others find your Dickensian endorsement of Dickens to be of use to them, humanly, intellectually, spiritually, then your endorsement is a success. The desire to turn the art of reading into a science is part of what draws the profession to the application of sterile concepts."

Even though this is about applying a certain analytical vocabulary, this quote jumped out at me.

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