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context and criticism

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Sometimes it seems to me that my business needs to invert its foundational question – the question that informs most of the work done today.

It is interesting, yes, that literary works borrow from discourse x, preoccupy themselves with important social subject y, or are informed by the long and complex history of z, but it is not all that interesting. It is not surprising, in other words, that literary works partake of the circumstances that define the world into which they are created, that they borrow social materials, or mimic this or that polemic, discussion, or shoulder-shrugging engagement.

But what is more interesting – what is to me a bit shocking – is that human beings immersed in this or that historical context, or even human beings who would like to engage with this or that probing social question, or elicit a sympathetic engagement with a certain social problem, resort to fiction – to made up stories – in response (or semi-response) to these situations.

In short, that art exists in the first place, was ever deemed the right response to anything, is more interesting than the fact that a given art object partakes of the world in which it was created, which is obvious, no surprise.

Let me put it one other way:

1) Someone is writing a story about injustice, cruelty, absurdity – and so at one point in this story the author deploys an image highly reminiscent of the Abu Ghraib photographs in order to illustrate or intensify the effect of the piece. This is not surprising.

2) Someone is upset, angry, or fascinated by what happened Abu-Ghraib (or Auschwitz, or Abu Ghraib, or the lives of the socially excluded, or unhappy housewives, etc etc etc) and because of this upsetness, anger, fascination that person decides to write a fiction, a story about a situation that never actually happened, no matter how close the details of the story are to the provoking event. This is an interesting response, no?

Of course, I am not the first person to think this way…

… but sometimes I worry a bit that I might well be the last.

Written by adswithoutproducts

April 15, 2007 at 12:49 am

Posted in aesthetics

2 Responses

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  1. Enjoy!
    ——

    Call for Papers: The Limits of History

    The dealine for essays to The Limits of History (described below) has been
    extended to July 1, 2007.

    Essays are invited for a collection entitled The Limits of History, to be
    co-edited by Allen Dunn and
    Thomas Haddox. This volume is guided by the assumption that the current
    dominance of historicist
    approaches to literary study has often distorted the discipline, that
    historical methodology as it has
    been applied in contemporary literary scholarship is often heedless of its own
    methodological
    inconsistency, blind to its dependence on other disciplines, and incapable of
    clearly articulating many
    of its own most deeply held values. The essays in this volume will address
    the flaws of literary
    historicism as it is currently practiced and suggest more productive roles for
    historical scholarship with
    the ultimate purpose of clarifying the goals and values of literary study. We
    welcome contributions that
    will draw on a variety of fields, including aesthetics, ethics, theology, the
    sciences, and history,
    especially new and alternative visions of historical research. We are looking
    for essays that engage
    rather than ignore the challenge presented by contemporary historicism and
    that offer theoretically
    supported alternatives to what has become the new disciplinary orthodoxy.

    Completed essays (5,000-8,000 words) are due by July 1, 2007. Please send
    essays to Thomas
    Haddox, Department of English, 301 McClung Tower, University of Tennessee,
    Knoxville, TN 37996.
    Address inquiries to Allen Dunn (ardunn_at_utk.edu) or Thomas Haddox
    (thaddox_at_utk.edu).

    Jonathan

    April 15, 2007 at 5:12 pm

  2. For whatever it’s worth, I’m a grad student, and this is roughly how I see things too. Actually it’s very close to how I see things. So… let us know if you have a conference, or start a journal, or such…

    More on this when I have time, I hope.

    pica

    April 16, 2007 at 12:10 am


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