Thursday, June 6, 2013

HOW TO READ LITERATURE by Terry  Eagleton

I've been a long time reader of Eagleton for the plain reason that he has a wonderful prose style and that , as a Marxist in the mode of Raymond Williams, he remains skeptical of using art as a springboard for philosophical speculation and insists that we have to appreciate how authors use their imaginations and techniques to elicit the subtle effects on their readership. He does not dodge the political in art, but he does insist that readers remember that literature is about the human experience and that the role of the artist is to present us with provocative narratives that place the reader in a flow of experience outside their own references.

 Eagelton, though, does go slack in making an argument about why attentive reading and an eye and ear for how a narrative succeeds or fails on the terms it establishes for itself; he is, perhaps, too much of a crank more interested in bellowing at today's kids rather than re-establishing his own reasons for bothering with a career in literary discussion. He makes an attempt to tell us why it's important to have the skills to read with a subtler mind through extensive explorations of emotional conflicts and situational tension, but he is not entirely convincing. 

There was a point in the end pages of his book "Literary Theory" where Eagleton seemed to go into a both a lament an rant about how theorizing about literature, the general examination of books as "texts" and the demonstration of how they cannot mean anything adequate to lived experience, over the finer art of criticism, genuine appreciation, when he postulated that after years of slugging it out with competing academics one--meaning himself, I believe--had to struggle what it was that made one desire to teach and dicuss literature as a career. Perhaps the author has reached that point even as he tries to reignite the passion for the studies of stories as entities in themselves, not extensions of political assumptions. I  like Harold Bloom's assertion that literature's principle benefit to the is that it helps us think about ourselves. That works for me.  Succinct and more profound than a dozen extended regrets.

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