the meaning-mongering of interpretation for its own sake

Lindsay Waters in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

LindsayThe problem is not just that literary scholarship has become disconnected from life. Something else more suspicious has happened to professional criticism in America over the past 30 years, and that is its love affair with reducing literature to ideas, to the author’s or reader’s intention or ideology — not at all the same thing as art. As a result, literary critics are devoted to saving the world, not to saving literature for the world, and to internecine battles that make little sense outside academe.

The death of Susan Sontag, in 2004, served to point out just how much things had changed in the critical world since the annus mirabilis of 1964, when the Beatles played the Hollywood Bowl and Sontag’s essay “Against Interpretation” appeared. She spray-painted on the walls of the academy the incendiary line, “In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.” Railing against imposing theories of interpretation on the “sensuous surface” of art, she rejected the New Criticism, psychoanalytic criticism, Marxist criticism, and other attempts to inflict meaning on art. Pleasure was her principle. Forty years on, what we have 24/7 in most English departments is the complete and total ascendancy of hermeneutics. Instead of the erotics of art, we’ve got the neurotics of art: the meaning-mongering of interpretation for its own sake.

More here.