The Dartmouth Observer
Friday, September 06, 2002
Don’t Take It So Seriously
Literary criticism is something of a sensation. It’s the academic literature and writings that many love and many others love to hate. It seems to me, however, that so much serious criticism of literary theory is misguided and that many of us should reconsider how we approach literary theory.
I used to regard most literary theory, along with psychoanalytic theory, and sociological theory, with extreme suspicion. So much of the time, I find the stuff biased, often convoluted, and directionless. I would throw up my hands in desperation and lament saying to myself “is this where academia is headed?”
After talking some with others, I realized that literary theory too often is read seriously. The truth is that literary theory is not and cannot be canonical. It is an ongoing dialogue, not by masters of literature, but by “more senior” scholars. Literary theory is intended to throw around ideas, not to be dogmatic. Unfortunately, both those who love it and those who hate it too often see literary theory as definitive.
Literary theory is here and here to stay. Yes, it’s often political and much of it is published for the sake of keeping professors on tenure track. To treat literary theory fairly, however, we must view it as nothing but an attempt at understanding an author’s words. We must remember that non-academics have as much authority to reject a piece of literary theory as academics, but should not move to condemn literary theory as a whole.