Category Archives: literary criticism

Constructive Criticism

by Katie Zwick

When I was in second grade, I went through a deceitful phase of reading only the thinnest books in the school library and lying for the sake of personal pizzas (the coveted Book It! reward). By the time I entered fourth grade, I had magically found my niche. I was introduced to what I needed to motivate my reading habits: literary criticism. Finally being shown, taught, and exposed to the fact that I didn’t have to love what I read for it to be of value to me changed the way I looked at reading. I was only nine years old.

As Marjorie Garber writes in The Use and Abuse of Literature, literary criticism gets a bad rap. She might not use those exact words but you get the idea. She quotes from Harold Brooks’ 1974 lecture, summing up the pros and cons (or uses and abuses) of lit crit. The first point made in each category gives a general idea of why literary criticism is good – “Literary criticism is meant to help us, either in writing literature; or in reading it with more enjoyment and discrimination; or in understanding, through the literature, the civilization it belongs to.” – and how it is bad – it provides a “half-baked interpretation formed by attending to only part of the evidence in a text (43).”

Alright, so there’s good and bad ways to utilize literary criticism. We, as college students (and seniors at that!), have faced and will continue to face daunting or sometimes just downright annoying exercises that force us to look at a piece of literature through various modes of literary criticism – feminist, psych, formalist, etc. These exercises are intended to provide us with several interpretations of a singular work, enable us to delve deeper into the author’s mind, and help us create strong opinions and arguments in reaction or relation to the work. We’ve all been there. We’ve all done that.

I’m not sure, however, that this is using literary criticism the “correct” way. Garber might say that unless we are taking it upon ourselves to apply the various criticisms to what we read, we are simply “abusing” literary criticism. Then again, she might not say this.

She definitely believes that “…every reading produces an equal and opposite rereading (46).”

Garber doesn’t want us to simply use literary criticism to enhance our intellectual interpretation of a literary work. She wants us to seek out our own criticisms and interpretations with existing criticisms acting as catalysts. I get a lot more joy out of reading when I am applying literary criticism to a literary work for fun and without being pushed to do so.

In other words, studying literary criticism is essential but the application should happen in an unstructured way. You don’t have to read everything through from the perspective of feminist criticism or Freudian psychology but if it happens, it happens.

*I no longer lie about how many books I’ve read for the sake of stickers, but I do believe that stickers should be given out in college. It couldn’t hurt.

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English Major? Don’t Even Think About It!

By Luis E. Canales

We, English Majors, are not always perceived and appreciated as such.  The world would not be the same without the wonderful work that has been done by the many English scholars who have dedicated their lives to the service of literature.  I find it hard to believe that there could be a world full of English scholars whose only purpose for choosing their major would be money.  English majors are invited by the vast ocean of opportunity that is presented to them when they decide to become English majors, literature scholars.

Those who stereotype us know, as does Marjorie Garber in her book The Use and Abuse of Literature, that being an English major is “So much for pleasure” (36).  The price paid for an English degree far exceeds what one may earn on a job in that field, but the pleasure obtained from this kind of scholarship, also far exceeds what any other kind of scholarship may offer.  Let me be clear here, I do not at all mean that all English majors are underpaid.  There are a great number of English majors who are now making a ton of money, thanks to the kind of knowledge they now possess.  But, the whole point here is that people often misjudge and criticize others without knowing better.

When it comes to misjudging others, think of the example that Garber gives us when she says, “If a scholar insists on marrying, he should choose ‘some little elderly widow” (37).  Like if saying an English scholar won’t be able to provide enough for him, not even to think it possible to provide for a wife and children.  But, if he finds that old lady that has a lot of money, which she inherited from her late husband, then it is not only possible to marry but to actually make a living as an English scholar.

I find all these kinds of stereotypes funny and think of myself in a position like that.  Of course all of that is not true, as the word says, they are just stereotypes, a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment (www.merriam-webster.com).  Therefore, we, English majors, should not be paying attention to all these kinds of nonsense and instead focus on the goodness found only within the English scholarship.  That is something that I definitely want, and is something that makes me and all English majors different from the rest of the world.