Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. Published by Cow Eye Press

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If "usefulness" means "marketable skills," then one could argue that "literary study" isn't much "use"--and then easily co-opted by other (more "popular"?) fields.

But how can literary study in and of itself *not* have value? When I read and/or study a work (the specifically "literary" aspects such as word choice, metaphor, allusion, symbolism, imagery, etc.), I am employing analytical skills that are tied to aspects of myself that are not touched (or "used") in any other way. I am enlarged (if you will) as a human being. Art as experience adds experiences to my life. One may as well say, What good are experiences?

Some also may say that beauty is useless (except for when it's used as a marketing tool). But there is a necessary difference between "survival value" and the ability to lend "value to survival"--which is what literature does. "Use" and "value" shouldn't always be interchangeable terms.

R. A. Rubin

A message story, a political message in lit does not have much shelf life. Hemmingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls has acleara political message. Today, the adventure and love story is what the reader cares about. The politics of the Fascists and Leftists seems quaint, a historical footnote. If the author only wrote political narratives, For Whom the bell Tolls would not be remembered.

Kevin Holtsberry


Doesn't Art communicate something more than just "this is art?" Can't literature be great literature (in, of and for itself) but ALSO communicate something deeper about life that touches on history, philosophy, ethics, etc.

In these type of works we don't trample the aesthetics to get to the politics but rather we marvel at how the literary can communicate things in a deeper way than straight non-fiction prose. Does that make sense?

Dan Green

Literature can indeed do all of those things you mention, Kevin, but I can't see how they can be the basis of, specifically, academic literary study. Courses in history, philosophy, and ethics treat history, philosophy and ethics.


But what about the study of music? It seems that the current issue re. lit. study may be the elevation of "content" at the expense of "form." Would that be accurate to say?

Just as music majors get inside the "theory" of the construction of notes on a page, can't the lit. major get inside the functions and techniques of the words on a page (form)?

And I agree with Kevin--literature (like music) communicates on deeper levels. Like T.S. Eliot said, "Great art can communicate before it is understood."

Dan Green

The issue is not really content vs. form. Finally these two things are intertwined in a particular way that creates meaning or provides a reading experience in a specifically "literary" way. Frankly, most current academic critics in English departments just don't want to study literature at all. In my opinion.


"I suppose one could say that finally "literature" itself doesn't exist except as a vehicle for philosophy or politics, but I can't say that and never will."

Isn't it a question of excess, of what literature *is* *beyond* philosophy or politics, not whether it is *pure* of them or not (which it never is, in the sense of their being no "outside the text.")


That should read, "there being"--sorry. I still subscribe to the idea that there is no "outside the text" as such.

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The Art of Disturbance--Available as Pdf and Kindle Ebook
Literary Pragmatism--Available as a Pdf