John Ellis is the author of The Theory of Literary Criticism: A Logical Analysis (Berkeley, 1974); Against Deconstruction (Princeton University Press, 1989); Language, Thought, and Logic (Northwest University Press, 1994); and Literature Lost: Social Agendas and the Corruption of the Humanities (Yale University Press, 1997).
These thoughts from him in this interview:
"PC logic consists in two steps: first, it is argued that distinctions which we commonly make break down-in effect, there are no pure blacks and whites, but only different shades of grey. So far, so good. But the second step ignores the shades, so that everything is just grey. This is how the conclusion is reached that everything is political-the implication being that everything is equally political. Similar reasoning leads to the conclusion that nothing is objective; and so on. The easy way to explode this fallacy is to say: If you insist on talking, not about black and white but about different greys, you are committed to a heightened awareness of different shades, for otherwise significant differences that exist in the real world will be lost. The reconceptualizing that is undertaken in the first step does not lessen the differences between greater and lesser degrees of objectivity, or between cases where the centrality of politics to a particular action is great or small. PC logic assumes that its first step abolishes those differences, but that is a simple logical mistake."
"The recognition of this close connection between the functional importance of literature and its aesthetic impact has a long history in criticism. In classical and neoclassical poetics it was said that poetry delighted and instructed. This has been a durable view, and if its two key terms are formulated somewhat more broadly, it is still viable; we can extend the word delight to include other nuances of a strong and immediate response: to involve, to intrigue, to move, to fascinate. Similarly, we can broaden the scope of instruct to include such ideas as ‘give cause to reflect,’ or ‘develop understanding.’"
Literature’s contributions to the moral life and sense is through its broadening and deepening of experience. The material of ordinary life is, as I say in my book, "abstracted, focused, sharpened, heightened" by the imagination of great writers. You learn a lot from literature, but that is because it contains a great deal of productive thought about things that are important to us, not because it tells you what to do.
…concerning the question whether criticism can be objective and scientific, or whether it is instead impressionistic and pluralistic. I showed [In Against Deconstruction, and also in Literature Lost] how the field had swung back and forth between these extremes for some time, and I did so to correct the mistaken notions put about by deconstuctionists and other contemporary relativists that literary critics had always thought themselves to be scientific and objective. This is a completely false account of that particular issue in the history of criticism. This allegedly new view [that criticism cannot be objective] is probably the one that has been most popular over time.