Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Monday, 16 August 2010

"Subjective Criticism" by David Bleich (Johns Hopkins UP, 1978)

He'd like more personal reactions to texts

  • "The personal and emotional connection we have to language and literature is just not consciously explored in our educational system, and it works only as a silent justification for the wide professional enterprise of English.
    This silence is traceable to two factors: the decline of religious authority over subjective matters and the lack of any widely accepted context for validating subjective experience", p.8
  • "[the modern mind-matter duality] is not just a description of cognition but a philosophical correlative of what is probably a much more influential thought, the religious dichotomy of body and soul. The adaptive advantage of the cognative dualism is that it leaves room in thought for the coexistence of religious cosmologies and secular ones", p.13
  • "at the very time when Mannheim, Freud, and the physical scientists were looking to subjective forms of thought to better authorize knowledge, criticism turned in the opposite direction, emphasizing the 'scientific' attitude", p.33
  • "In this practice, two aspects of the objective paradigm are combined - the religious assumption that ministers have special access to the access to the absolute truth and the scientific assumption that an object of art is independent of human perception. This is not surprising, though, in the light of the long-standing association of religious interests and the objective paradigm.
    Two major modern critics have tried to bring new language and thought into literary hermeneutics, though ultimately, objective thinking prevailed in their work ... I.A. Richards ... Northrop Frye", p.34

There's some exaggeration

  • "Because statistics always seem context-free, they function like a Rorscach blot", p.27 (quoting Poole?)
  • "The subjective paradigm is a development of modern culture on the largest scale. Its presence may be noted in every phase of cultural activity", p.37
  • "the basic facts of life and death have always produced so great a sense of subjective anomaly that they have occupied the forefront of interpretive activity. Whatever its degree of success, interpretation has consistently been the first and fundamental means of coping with the unsettling disharmonies of experience", p.68

There's lots about language acquisition (pages about Helen Keller), and lots about particular Freud cases. Summaries would have sufficed. Later he returns the main issue of how knowledge about text is generated

  • "Nelson's work clarifies the problem of response to some degree: How shall subjective feelings and motives be converted into publicly negociable issues, and what knowledge does this conversion yield?", p.100
  • "knowledge cannot be reached simply through discussion or even discussion of the text, but that personal motives for membership in the classroom have to be translated into motives for knowledge", p.134
  • "A judgment of meaning is an act of interpretation governed by a social or pedagogical motive", p.156
  • "Regardless of the group's purpose, some response statements will always seem more susceptible to public discussion and potentially more enlightening than others, and such standards of negociability have to be commonly understood before the group can function", p.168
  • "One of the main proposals of subjective criticism is that the organised study of taste is a natural starting point for language and literature programs", p.211
  • "New knowledge is created when intellectual efforts make subjective concerns serve new conscious purposes", p.214
  • "If there is no such external standard, collective interests are the highest authority, and knowledge depends ultimately on how individuals from groups and circumscribe the existence of other groups", p.264

He quotes several "Response Statements" (each about 3 pages or so long) by students who've read texts, and analyses them in the light of the above viewpoint. Recognition of subjectivity and influence is encouraged

  • "when language is perceived, it is almost always associated with the person who originated it in that context ... In pedagogical situations where biography is not discussed directly, it enters interpretive discussion through unspoken assumptions", p.238-9

I welcome the reminder about the subjective basis of our perceptions. A book written today on the same subject might have a very different emphasis and a lot more psychology (more quantitative psychological results). It seems to come from a pre-theory age.

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