literary theory


What is needed is something quite different. The sceptical challenge to the idea of literary value cannot be brushed aside with reference to an existing “body of knowledge” about literature. It has to be shown that the knowledge in such a body of knowledge actually is knowledge. Thinking about literature cannot but be philosophical. There is no reason why laxer standards should be permissible. This anthology sometimes seems to imply that philosophy is to be defined as that which happens to come out of the mouth of a person currently in the pay of a Department of Philosophy. But for such persons to be of use to an account of literary value, they need also to be able to match the erudition and judgement of the best literary critics. All the humanities are philosophical through and through. They cannot simply ask some other department to do their thinking for them and then plonk it on top of their own material. The philosophy of literary “form”, however, is still in its infancy – so much so that it is even unclear whether “form” is the right word for what is to be discussed. An admission of the difficulty of addressing this subject may, strangely, be of more assistance in capturing the imagination of future readers, scholars and critics, than an assurance that the “science of literature” would be given back entire to us could we only delete the fashionable nonsense with which it is supposed currently to be encumbered.

Simon Jarvis reviewing a new anthology of lit. theory, “Theory’s Empire” in the TLS.