Monday, August 13, 2007

Terry Eagleton on student lit crit

On students' readings of poetry these days:
They give accounts of works of literature which describe what is going on in them, perhaps with a few evaluative comments thrown in. To adapt a technical distinction from linguistics, they treat the poem as language but not as discourse. "Discourse"... means attending to language in all of its material density, whereas most approaches to poetic language tend to disembody it....It would be hard to figure out, just be reading most of these content analyses, that they were supposed to be about poems or novels rather than about some real-life happening. What gets left out is the literariness of the work... [T]hey treat the poem as though its author chose for some eccentric reason to write out his or her views on warfare or sexuality in lines which do not reach to the end of the page. Maybe the computer got stuck. (From How to Read a Poem, quoted by Marjorie Perloff in "It Must Stop," the 2006 MLA Presidential Address.)

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