The Craft of Writing
R1B - 004 | CCN: 77824
Reading Knowledge: The Rhetoric of Literary Criticism
Instructor: Simon Porzak and Aakash Suchak
"And the difference between literature and criticism consists perhaps only in the fact that criticism is more likely to be blind to the way in which its own critical difference from itself makes it, in the final analysis, literary." – Barbara Johnson
Most "literary criticism" – the craft of making decisions about the value of specific literary texts – seeks to decide whether certain works are good or bad. Other forms of literary criticism, seeking to triangulate the particular "meaning" of novels, plays, and poems, instead explore the question of what literature itself might be good for: what can it teach us about the hidden functions of the human mind, about the structure of language and meaning, about our cultural practices of sexuality and desire, about the history of capitalism, or even about the very nature of truth?
However, for as long as there have been literary critics, there have been those who claim that literary criticism can teach us nothing. As Plato satirically argues in the "Protagoras," poetry (and the reading of poetry) may be absolutely incapable of delivering any stable, universal truth. But even if literature cannot deliver "the truth," it may still have many "truths" to offer us, if we can figure out how to read them. What if these various ways of reading, discussing, and debating the truths of literature are in fact the most profoundly interesting, difficult, enjoyable, and revolutionary forms of knowledge literature provides?
In this course, students will refine their critical and rhetorical skills by examining, and practicing, the differing modes of reading and argumentation at work in the scholarly and theoretical polemics surrounding literary texts. Over the course of a rigorous and challenging semester, we will attempt to reckon with how literary texts solicit conflicting interpretations and become sites of discursive debate for scholars and critics. We will see how critics of literature build arguments through analytical "close reading," even as we discover how texts themselves are self-critical of their own premises and devices. Imbricated in these concerns is the question of reading, as thematized in course material and as an indispensable aspect of literary activity, along with its relationship to interpretive analysis.