Davis and Schleifer, Contemporary Literary Criticism

Robert Con Davis and Ronald Schleifer. Contemporary Literary Criticism: Literary and Cultural Studies, fourth edition. New York: Longman, 1998.



Move to define objective criteria for literary analysis to displace the aristocratic notions of literary 'taste' [139]

1930s literary and cultural radicalism Roberts

but disappeared quickly

New Criticism

gtest power during McCarthyism

Golden years of US liberalism - 60s kennedy

liberal imperialism - led to Vietnam

Most teachers and critics still New Crit

new literary avant-garde of theory

specialness of lit - special language, special knowledge

analytic method refers to extra-literary positions - psychoanalysis, linguistics, phil

everything becomes literature


1980s - minority seeks politically informed readings Roberts

Algerian Rev and Vietnam caused intellectuals to question their place in the world

1968 - Tet offensive victories, Black rebellion, Johnson doesn't run again, anti-war mvmt Roberts

consequences for teaching lit

Black civil rights, Black Cultural Natioanlism

wider political space opened-Hispanic Am, Mexican agricultural laborers, Women's mvmt

Marxism makes serious appearance

issue of colonialism and imperialism

issue began not from th but from Black experience in US

led to int in African lit

Opposition to Vietnam war led to Q of how colony and empire had been represented in Western literatures

Colonial Discourse Analysis

necessary rereading of the Western archive.. claim that the whole was an archive of bad faith

Issue of exclusive emphasis in Western academy on experience of Europe and North America

led to category of Third World Literature

Thatcherite-Reaganite consensus

unwilling to grant space to dissent

seen as mad attacks on Western civ and famly values and degenerations of 'the Amerian mind.'

literary theorists out of stu mvmts of 60s and 70s

dropped out or didn't become theorists or weren't seriously involved in political mvmt

recession and stagnation of 70s put social justice mvmts on defensive

also consolidation of bourgeois nation-state in much of post-colonial world

turn int to 3rd world nat'lsm

= beg of "Third World Literature"

later 80s - disillusionment w/[state of Third World

post-structuralism and deconstruction were theoretical positions for critique of nationalism

Disorienting effects

imperialism and nat'lism = twin faces of same falsity

rejection of rationalism

Only Power was universal and immutable

Affiliations could only be shifting and multiple

to speak of a stable subject position was to chase the chimera of the 'myth of origins'

the ideal of inquiry (which presumes pos of finding some believable truth is to be replaced by the idea of conversation (by its nature inconclusive) [153]

2 directions follow

American kind of pluralism

more sombre

whatever claims to be fact is none other than a truth-effect produced by the ruse of discourse

whatever claims to resist Power is already constituted as Power

then can only wander aimlessly thru effects, counting, consuming, producing them

theory as conversation has leveling effect

can cite Marxists and anti-Marxists, feminists andanti-feminists, etc. to validate successive positions

theory becomes marketplace of ideas

if try to conclude, one is rationalist or empiricist, or historicist

"The age of Marxism if over, 'the age of enjoyment of goods and services' is here! The world was, in other words, bourgeois/ [154]


Ferment in minority, subaltern, feninist and post-colonial consciousness resulted in a Copernican revolution in all trad fields of inquiry. Eurocentrism has been challenged definitively... most scholars aware now that society and culture have been the heterogeneous product of heterogeneous people in an enormous variety of cultures, traditions, and situations.

No longer does TS Eliot's idea of the great Western masterpieces enduring together in a constantly redefining pattern of monuments have its old authority. [162]

contest @ canon continues

1st Q od adding Jane Austin to male writers

then displacing entire canon of American writers like Hawthorne and Emerson w/ best-selling writers of the same period like Harriet Beecher Stowe..

after that the logic of displacement bec more attenuated and the mere mention of names of politically validated living writers bec more impt than anything @ them or their wks [163]

but this is caricature

the real thing was "always a matter of opening and participating in a central strand of intellectual and cultural effort and of showing what had always been, though indiscernably, a part of it, like the work of women, or of blacks and servants - but which had been either denied or derogated."." [163]

It does not finally matter who wrote what, but rather how a work is written and how it is read. The idea that Plato and Aristotle are male and products of a slave society so they should be disqualified fro receiving contemporary attention is as limited an idea as suggesting that only their work, because it was addressed to and about elites should be read today... [165]


LINKS TO OTHER SECTIONS OF Contemporary Literary Criticism:

What Is Literary Studies?
What is Literary Theory? - 1
What is Literary Theory? - 2
Cultural Studies

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