What Kind of Literary Criticism Do I Practice?
Posted by Barbara Leavy on Feb 16 2011, 10:24 AM

     I use the word "practice" quite deliberately.  Just as doctors specialize, so do literary critics.  I chose as a graduate student to focus on Nineteenth-Century British Literature, with sub-specialties in folklore and theories of literary criticism.  I also taught courses in crime fiction at Queens College, including classes in Women in Crime Fiction and in what I call the Ethnic Detective.  The latter emphasized the cultural context of many mysteries, such as Navajo culture in Tony Hillerman's Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee mysteries.  This course would eventually lead to my interest in a planned book, Essays on Crime Fiction and Culture.

     About theories of literary criticism--when I studied literature, theory was the diving board that allowed us to leap into the pool that was the text, the literary work being analyzed.  Today, it seems to me, the text has become the diving board, theory the pool.  Some critics deny that there is a text in the sense that a "text" is understood to have some connection to the intention of the author who produced it.  Perhaps I am a dinosaur roaming the realm of literary criticism, but I believe there are texts and that on this forum you and I can have exchanges about them while relegating theory once again to its function as--to repeat my metaphor--the diving board, not the pool.

     I have always held that in every act of reading, the author and we the readers enter into a partnership.  In a business relationship, a partner may have a large part of the business or a very small part.  When we read literature, the author is the dominant partner, and depending on who the author is, we are given a smaller or larger share where it comes to interpreting the text. It is up to us to determine how much leeway the author has allowed us and to recognize what limits are set for our ability to read INTO the text. In any event, these are my suppositions in discussing literature with you.

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