Literary criticism has been narrowed, not merely in its “approach,” but in its subject matter. When I took up the question of Richard Russo’s Catholicism in Empire Falls yesterday, I consulted the MLA Bibliography to find the previous criticism on the novel. Eight years after its publication, only three articles on it have been published—and one of those, by Joseph Epstein in Commentary, was a review-essay on it and Jonathan Franzen’s Corrections. In the same period of time, sixty-four publications have appeared just on The Sound and the Fury."
Musings on Place, Travel, Books, Literature, Poetry, Literary Criticism, Collecting, Media, Life and the Arts
Mark Bauerleinin wrote recently about literary criticism’s “diminishing returns;” D. G. Myers agrees, but for different reasons:
"It is not merely an upsurge in “productivity”, he says "nor a shift to criticism-as-performance. The problem is with a kind of literary criticism more intensive than a language has ever known, a kind of criticism that has only grown more intensive since [John Crowe] Ransom’s day. Its microscopic focus, the stretching of its subject to excessive lengths, its fervid humorlessness, its exclusive concern with a text’s inner tensions to the utter neglect of literature’s extensions—the references and even the applications to a world outside the text—have narrowed the appeal of literary criticism and quite naturally cost it readers."
"to return from interpretation (which includes both criticism-as-explication and criticism-as-performance) to a more traditional scholarly conception of literary study. Scholars do not seek merely, in Bauerlein’s phrase, “to write something new and different”; they seek to contribute something new and different to knowledge. They are not satisfied with new “approaches.” They demand new facts, new sources, new intelligence.
Both men speak of a concept of literary study which involves ‘life:’ Bauerleinin calling for more direct interaction between student and teacher; Meyer advocating study that relates to the real world. Both calls are laudable. They tend to bolster arguments made by Mark Edmunsdon in his book Why Read?, arguments I plan to write supportively about when I engage with Adrian Michael Kelly over his unfair, I think, pegging of Edmunsdon as a ‘secular profit who uses literature ‘as a program for moral and political improvement.’