Monday, August 20, 2007


Something else occurs to me, with regards to a couple of texts listed in my last post. Though I included, without caveat or hesitation, Fliegelman's Declaring Independence, it might more properly be considered a work of cultural and/or social criticism, as opposed to literary criticism, which was the ostensible purpose of the post, at least considered in the context of the discussion that prompted it. Nonetheless, it's inclusion is merited, inasmuch as Fliegelman's discussion of Revolutionary-era rhetoric is relevant to an understanding not only of the non-literary texts (where "literary" is bounded according to traditional dictates) that fall within his scope, but also to an understanding of the literature contemporary with, and immediately following, the era in question. Furthermore, his study of evolving notions of authorship are, by virtue of the potential for their extension, relevant to present-day literary issues, particularly with regards to copyright, which I take to be the legal codification of both authorship and ownership of a text, where "text" is defined in its broadest sense, and where authorship and ownership may not always be coterminous.

The same post-facto qualification applies as well to my inclusion of Ruttenburg's book. Though she does discuss a range of literary texts, her focus is on cultural and social notions, rather than on the texts as text, at least according to traditional and/or conservative considerations of the term's limits. Furthermore, the chapter of her study that is most interesting (to my mind, of course) has virtually nothing to do with literary writing, per se, as it deals with the Salem witch trials, and the social upheaval and spontaneous reorganization thereof that attended that moment. Like Fliegelman, she is interested in rhetoric and text as manifestations of, and as a force operating within, the socio-cultural sphere, rather than with text as "pure art," or some such...

All of which is to point to a fourth question I should have raised earlier:
4. Given historical criticism, the boundary between literary criticism and certain forms of cultural criticism is, at least in cases where cultural criticism deal explicitly with concerns at the heart of notions of textuality / literature, often indistinct. The cases of overlap are certainly less common than in the other instances of overlap or indistinct boundary than I mentioned earlier, but they nonetheless do exist, and pose a relevant question (if not outright "concern") to a discussion of literary criticism that might seek to define the latter rigidly, or according to traditional definitions. That is, it's not possible to make a statement — at least not without breaching good faith — that all cultural criticism involves literary criticism in the way we might, in good faith, make such a claim about poetry always involving a critical act. Nonethless, certain instances do demonstrably trouble a simple identification...


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