Thursday, February 09, 2012

Literary Blog Hop

Literary Blog HopThe Literary Blog Hop is sponsored by The Blue Bookcase .  Here's the question this week:

In the epilogue for Fargo Rock City, Chuck Klosterman writes:

"It's always been my theory that criticism is really just veiled autobiography; whenever someone writes about a piece of art, they're really just writing about themselves."

Do you agree? 

 I disagree with Klosterman's claim that "criticism is really just veiled autobiography".  When I review a book I try to make explicit any personal connections to the work or my reading experience.  However, I also engage in formal Literary criticism.  By this I mean the evaluation, analysis, description, or interpretation of  a literary work.  My short essays are thus a mix of both formal criticism and my personal reaction to the book.  Sometimes the personal aspect is minimal or non-existent.  I always try to make it clear.  That there are other readings of a literary text is certainly true.  As Robert Alter discusses in his lively book, The Pleasures of Reading in an Ideological Age, "There are many precise readings of a given text (even, paradoxically, conflicting ones), depending on what aspects of the text you are looking at, what questions you are asking, what issues beyond the text you mean to address." (p 208).  This does not mean that the critics opinion is necessarily merely his autobiographical take on the work in question.
 When I read professional critics I expect this approach and believe that good criticism is not merely "veiled autobiography".  My favorite literary critics -- for example, Michael Dirda or James Wood -- are good examples of criticism that I respect and that exemplifies this sort of professionalism.  I believe that Klosterman's comment about criticism tells us more about his philosophical outlook than it does about criticism.  And his is a subjective view of the world that I reject.


mel u said...

you make some excellent points -I also think the claim is very wrong

James said...

Thanks for your comment in support of my position.

Melody said...

The term "veiled autobiography" sounds rather disdainful to me. I don't really like the term. As far as a personal reaction to a book, that's one of the things I enjoy reading in a review (probably why I prefer literary bloggers to professional reviewers). Not all the emotions or feelings, but just enough to know how the artistic side stood up to the skillful side.

James said...

Thanks for your comment. I also enjoy personal comments included in review of books and make them myself when I feel they are relevant. The notion that all criticism is merely autobiography goes a bit too far.