The Literary Lens

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But his account does clarify why the literary academic world is allowed to exist despite its radical posture: A remote and sparsely inhabited island, it exerts zero influence on the world around it. Now, however, the neoliberal order is in crisis, throwing global politics into disarray and creating an opening for a new critical paradigm. If such a renewal happens, North will deserve some credit: His effort to disentangle the progressive possibilities of aesthetic cultivation from the reactionary forms it has assumed may well help to rejuvenate the discipline. After all, it is entirely possible to expose students to complexity and nuance without reaffirming the old-school canon of dead white men or the reactionary politics that the canon was made to serve.

Literary Criticism

North is such a smart and articulate thinker that it seems foolish to argue with him. But his strident tone invites debate. A good place to begin is his valorization of I. Richards and corresponding demonization of the New Critics.

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To this day, any student who scours a passage from a literary work in search of ambiguities and ironies is following the example they set. The New Critics did defend traditional hierarchies segregating highbrow and lowbrow literature. This tendency to treat statements of belief and intention as the key to understanding a given style of reading yields an impoverished picture of the various historicist schools that North finds wanting.

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Over and over, he laments the isolation of the academy and yearns for an approach capable of reaching a wider public. This is a common desire among academics, but it raises the question of whether criticism aimed at such an audience, beyond the university and thus more responsive to market demands, would be better equipped to resist neoliberalism than traditional scholarship. Bravo — three cheers — thumbs up.

But therein lay the rub. This was in a way the ultimate surprise, that the writers would squander their vaulted status and put in jeopardy their hard won achievement. They may have made their devoted viewers happy, but in critical terms it was a pyrrhic victory. For in the end, what makes good television does not make quality literature. Out went the nuance, the dull gray ambiguity; and in came clarity, that nice and stark black against white.

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In literary terms we actually needed more of a Sopranos ending, albeit a thoroughly ambiguous ending set somewhere besides a charming diner with a family looking around sheepishly. To live up to its previously established literary plaudits, the show required a finale that explicitly did not tie up loose ends, and in particular one that made the viewers feel we still have a crick stuck in our collective craw—that nagging sensation that Walt may really have been bad, evil even, and we with our moral compass pointing every which way but right experiencing unrelenting unease.

Oh, this was a television show after all. It was an enormously meaningful final episode that was too plain sympathetic to Walt, the darling of Gilligan and his merry band of yeomen writers. Something caused them to err with a telling finality. Which is a bit of a shame, for these artists had reached the highest echelon of laudatory entertainment, when your production crosses over into a different realm.

He was so fixated on his epic quest that the only perk he allowed himself, awash in riches, was a semi fancy car in the final season. The true Walt had not had a heart, or at least half a heart, from midway in the first season all the way to the final episode when—presto—we discover the ravenous lion has a heart after all.

Literary Theory | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Yet Walt did in fact needlessly kill Lydia; however, we were manipulated into thinking it was something grand. He got the goods on her, hurrah hurrah. But when this brash violent act should have helped to balance out all the heart string pulling, it was written and portrayed as something else: sweet false justice.

She had a child too after all. A criminal no doubt he was, but our criminal—a man of principle and a certain sort of morality. Her voice is light and fragile, her message authoritative. In academic circles, Eve Sedgwick is known as ''the straight woman who does gay studies.

Formalism (a literary theory)

Queer theory, which Ms. Sedgwick developed along with Judith Butler, a professor at the University of California, Berkley, is a prism through which scholars examine literary texts. Queer theorists scorn traditional definitions of ''homosexual'' and ''heterosexual. Instead, queer theorists say, taking their cue from the historian Michel Foucault, sexuality exists on a continuum, with some people preferring sex partners of the opposite sex, others preferring partners of both sexes.

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Only since the 19th century, queer theorists argue, have sexual definitions become rigid. And along with this rigidity, they say, has come anxiety, panic and intensifying homophobic attitudes. For these scholars, literature is embedded with homophobic fears and anxieties. Looking at literary works through the prism of queer theory, they argue, clarifies them and explains their mysteries. In recent years, queer theory has become one of the most popular fields for graduate students in English literature.

Once on the fringes of academic life, it was a major topic at last month's meeting of the Modern Language Association in Toronto, and today Ivy League English departments are recruiting queer theorists. Sedgwick took texts traditionally seen as heterosexual and exposed what she says are their homoerotic themes. Labels like ''heterosexual'' and ''homosexual'' are societal inventions, Ms.

Sedgwick says, and in her essay on ''La Religieuse'' by Diderot, she calls them ''rich and murderous and contradictory. Sedgwick said she never thought of queer theory as a basis for political action. But in recent months, her writings have been the inspiration for the increasingly vocal group Sex Panic, which is fighting what it sees as an oppressive attempt to restrict gay sexual behavior: efforts to close bathhouses and movie theaters for instance, in the belief that they are sites of sexual behavior that has a high risk of spreading AIDS. Sedgwick said, ''that queer theory has been useful for political work that seems important for me.

Sedgwick first developed her theories through a reading of Dickens's novel ''Our Mutual Friend'' in an essay she had published in Raritan in Sedgwick said. One man becomes obsessed with the other, and there are paranoid chases. It was not, she said, that this was a homosexual novel or that Dickens was homosexual, but rather, she said: ''You can't understand relations between men and women characters unless you understand the relationship between people of the same gender. Also important is the way homophobia is aroused in a particular cultural setting.

No one would hire me.