Thursday, September 22, 2005

Questions to Ask When Reading Literary Criticism

On the typical theory of taste, taste is built on (1) comparison with a broad range of experiences; (2) discernment of relevant features; (3) fairmindedness. Thus, whenever we read a piece of literary criticism, we should ask ourselves three questions:

(1) Does this piece enrich my base for comparing the experience of the literary work discussed with other experiences?

(2) Does this piece help me to identify interesting things in the literary work discussed that I would not otherwise have identified?

(3) Does this piece help me to recognize dangerous latent biases in myself that might interfere with the full experience of the literary work?

If the answer to none of these questions is 'Yes', we need to ask ourselves why we are reading such literary criticism. I wouldn't pull a Hume and consign what doesn't do one of these things to the flames; but one really does need to ask whether there is any real value for us in a bit of literary criticism that assists us in none of these ways.

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