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ColoradoGuy
05-13-2008, 07:53 PM
This link (http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2008/05/11/measure_for_measure/) from the Boston Globe (via Publisher's Lunch) is an argument that literature studies are dying because they're not like the sciences, and, to survive, should try to become more like them. I don't think that's so, but I agree with the author that the main problem is that Lit/Critters are only speaking to each other in ways increasingly esoteric and boring. I liked this part from the article:

"Homo sapiens is a bizarre literary ape - one that, outside of working and sleeping, may well spend most of its remaining hours lost in landscapes of make-believe. Across the breadth of human history, across the wide mosaic of world cultures, there has never been a society in which people don't devote great gobs of time to seeing, creating, and hearing fictions - from folktales to film, from theater to television. Stories represent our biggest and most preciously varied repository of information about human nature. Without a robust study of literature there can be no adequate reckoning of the human condition - no full understanding of art, culture, psychology, or even of biology."

RG570
05-13-2008, 08:27 PM
I don't agree with this at all. It's just a symptom of the anti-academic climate here. Attention spans are too short, and if you can't immediately plan out how to make money from any given thing, it's "useless" and somehow loses its legitimacy. I think it sucks. It's the height of bourgeois corruption in the academic world. Right wingers always complain about how "left" the universities are, but this kind of pandering to idiocy is decidedly bourgeois.

This is not making literature "more accessible" or whatever the excuse is. It's legitimizing laziness.

Higgins
05-13-2008, 08:45 PM
This link (http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2008/05/11/measure_for_measure/) from the Boston Globe (via Publisher's Lunch) is an argument that literature studies are dying because they're not like the sciences, and, to survive, should try to become more like them. I don't think that's so, but I agree with the author that the main problem is that Lit/Critters are only speaking to each other in ways increasingly esoteric and boring. I liked this part from the article:

"Homo sapiens is a bizarre literary ape - one that, outside of working and sleeping, may well spend most of its remaining hours lost in landscapes of make-believe. Across the breadth of human history, across the wide mosaic of world cultures, there has never been a society in which people don't devote great gobs of time to seeing, creating, and hearing fictions - from folktales to film, from theater to television. Stories represent our biggest and most preciously varied repository of information about human nature. Without a robust study of literature there can be no adequate reckoning of the human condition - no full understanding of art, culture, psychology, or even of biology."

Sounds like a good plan. History of Science used this narrative/fictive invention approach/methodology to basically totally discredit the philosophy of science and the "scientific method" thing. I suspect an appoach to literature/fiction based on the narrative/analytic synthesis that History of Science has managed to work out would be very productive and there are elements of such an analysis available already: eg, V. Propp on fairy tale narrative structures.

Higgins
05-13-2008, 08:50 PM
I don't agree with this at all. It's just a symptom of the anti-academic climate here. Attention spans are too short, and if you can't immediately plan out how to make money from any given thing, it's "useless" and somehow loses its legitimacy. I think it sucks. It's the height of bourgeois corruption in the academic world. Right wingers always complain about how "left" the universities are, but this kind of pandering to idiocy is decidedly bourgeois.

This is not making literature "more accessible" or whatever the excuse is. It's legitimizing laziness.

Well...when you put science itself through the narrative-based methodological approach, it looks much better....why not the same for literature?

(for History of Science see:

http://www.press.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/hfs.cgi/00/15864.ctl
)

ColoradoGuy
05-14-2008, 04:17 AM
Raymond Tallis, a neuroscientist who writes quite a bit for the Time Literary Supplement has weighed in on the subject (http://tls.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,25360-2651195,00.html) in the April 11 issue. He is not pleased. Reviewing (and heavily criticizing) A.S. Byatt for her use of what he considers pop-neurophysiology in her study of John Donne, he decries "the literary critic as neuroscience groupie." His summary quip: "When a priest loses his faith, he is unfrocked, when critics lose theirs, they redefine their subject."

Dawnstorm
05-14-2008, 12:12 PM
Gottschall's article, the way I read it, is who gets paid for what in the current (US) institutional context, what results they get, and what results the others would probably get. Criticism is commentary rather than science; but I agree that with more scientific rigour the commentary would stand on firmer ground. That, and - as Gottschall says himself - science of literature does exist. It's just not always the literary scholars who do it.

For example, Deena Skolnick (http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~deenasw/research.html), who works at fiction cognition is an expert in cognition, not literature. Take a look at the website, and you'll find that she also has a project going about the psychology of scientific explanations. She has co-authored a paper called "The seductive allure of neuroscientific explanations" (pdf (http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~deenasw/Assets/Weisberg-JOCN.pdf)). Here's the abstract:


Explanations of psychological phenomena seem to generate more public interest when they contain neuroscientific information. Even irrelevant neuroscience information in an explanation of a psychological phenomenon may interfere with people’s abilities to critically consider the underlying logic of this explanation. We tested this hypothesis by giving naıve adults, students in a neuroscience course, and neuroscience experts brief descriptions of psychological phenomena followed by one of four types of explanation, according to a 2 (good explanation vs. bad explanation) x 2 (without neuroscience vs. with neuroscience) design. Crucially, the neuroscience information was irrelevant to the logic of the explanation, as confirmed by the expert subjects. Subjects in all three groups judged good explanations as more satisfying than bad ones. But subjects in the two nonexpert groups additionally judged that explanations with logically irrelevant neuroscience information were more satisfying than explanations without. The neuroscience information had a particularly striking effect on nonexperts’ judgments of bad explanations, masking otherwise salient problems in these explanations.

I quite like Tallis' article, and, I think, so would Gottschall. After all he's talking about methodology not hot new lingo functioning as fresh metaphor. The thing here is that neuroscience is quite new and all the range and fMRI scans now use flashy colour. But we understand literature better than the brain. If you could correlate brain bloodflow in meaningful ways to poetry, that wouldn't tell us a whole lot about poetry; it would tell us a lot more about the brain.

Teaching research design is a good idea. It might turn people off the idea of scanning subjects while reading Donne. It's not, currently, an efficient design. Too much for too little. But, you see, Byatt wasn't designing research.

So the question remains: Who is paid for doing what in what institutional context?

Higgins
05-14-2008, 09:31 PM
Raymond Tallis, a neuroscientist who writes quite a bit for the Time Literary Supplement has weighed in on the subject (http://tls.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,25360-2651195,00.html) in the April 11 issue. He is not pleased. Reviewing (and heavily criticizing) A.S. Byatt for her use of what he considers pop-neurophysiology in her study of John Donne, he decries "the literary critic as neuroscience groupie." His summary quip: "When a priest loses his faith, he is unfrocked, when critics lose theirs, they redefine their subject."

What's funny is that the expert denoucer of non-experts seems to have expertly forgotten that most of A. S. Byatt's work has been in fiction. She is only secondarily a critic....So the huffing and puffing about critics seems to be very expertly missing its target. Or is that another example of irrelevent neuroscience providing a cover for folly?

Kalyke
05-15-2008, 02:29 AM
Well, Law, Rhetoric, (which can be seen as 'marketing') and Fiction use the same techniques.

Aglaia
05-15-2008, 07:25 PM
This link (http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2008/05/11/measure_for_measure/) from the Boston Globe (via Publisher's Lunch) is an argument that literature studies are dying because they're not like the sciences, and, to survive, should try to become more like them.

I think this is an interesting idea, though I'd like to see a combination of the current way and this new idea. Despite what the author makes it sound like, Literary Criticism is pretty much constantly evolving, so I would think that the influence of science would be rather expected in the current climate.

I do disagree with the argument that lit studies are dying b/c they're not like the sciences. My personal opinion, coming only from my experience at one University, of course, has to do with the climate of our school system and the curriculum, etc. I won't get into it. Bo-ring. :D


I don't think that's so, but I agree with the author that the main problem is that Lit/Critters are only speaking to each other in ways increasingly esoteric and boring.


I take offence! And on behalf of my mentor, who often compared Chaucer to South Park, I take offence! :ROFL:

ColoradoGuy
05-16-2008, 05:28 AM
I take offence! And on behalf of my mentor, who often compared Chaucer to South Park, I take offence! :ROFL:
So which Chaucer character had Cartman's voice?

Ruv Draba
05-16-2008, 08:04 AM
(Warning: mildly ranty :rant:)

As a person who loves literature, endeavours to write it, has a reasonable understanding of it and is steeped in both science training and science career, all I can say is that the number of literary scholars who have anything useful to add to my life is too bloody small by half. If they all got hit by a bus tomorrow, I'd be more worried about the condition of the driver and the wear on the tires.

My (general) impressions:

They're not writing for people who love literature; they're not even writing for a literary elite; they're writing to out-obfuscate each other;
Too much critique is political commentary masquerading as literary criticism;
What passes for 'evidence' in modern lit-crit are quotations stripped of context and adapted to the critter's personal ideology;
Too many lit critters don't know how social sciences work and therefore can't tell a sensible hypothesis from a comforting fiction or an inflammatory speculation;
Being eloquent doesn't make one smart, deep or astute.Lit crit I'd happily spend my tax dollars on:

Explaining what authors are trying to achieve, how they go about it, and the degree to which it may or may not have worked in comparison with other literature (i.e. "old school" crit);
Showing trends and influences in ideas and beliefs from a social science perspective - without commenting on their validity or otherwise;
Showing changes in literary interpretation from a social science perspective - without commenting on the validity of such interpretation;
Finding "clusters" in literary aims, ideas and methods to help readers make their own investigations and draw their own insights (i.e. the sort of thing I was trying to do with Genre Signatures for instance)
Showing how literary thought is changing, and speculating on where it might go nextThere's a truckload of untouched research here, and it beats me why literary scholars aren't assailing it (or maybe I'm just looking in the wrong places). Really, the list above is all I can imagine being interested in from literary critique. Everything else either feels like another discipline to me (like philosophy, linguistics, history) or political polemia or just plain academic diddling.

If the 'discipline' (is it disciplined?) is 'dying', well maybe that's a good thing? Maybe after the vapid, grey-ponytailed left-wing postmodernist Newspeak-evangelising ideologues slink off and wash windscreens on streetcorners, some lit-loving young guns will come in with fresh ideas and a desire to help real people do real things?

I can hope. :rolleyes:

More seriously, some science education and training probably wouldn't hurt - but ultimately, one can hide behind science jargon without being scientific. The real issues here are focus, discipline and accountability. Literary academics seem to have none of these. They've used the excuse of postmodern critique to slip their leash. They have no professional or ethical frame in which to work, much less a conceptual frame. Someone needs to gather them in, point out why they get paid, what they owe and to whom, and push their noses back onto the grindstone.

Higgins
05-16-2008, 07:00 PM
(Warning: mildly ranty :rant:)



More seriously, some science education and training probably wouldn't hurt - but ultimately, one can hide behind science jargon without being scientific. The real issues here are focus, discipline and accountability. Literary academics seem to have none of these. They've used the excuse of postmodern critique to slip their leash. They have no professional or ethical frame in which to work, much less a conceptual frame. Someone needs to gather them in, point out why they get paid, what they owe and to whom, and push their noses back onto the grindstone.

Slip their leash? What is this leash? What's the point in leashing scholars to some non-scholarly standards?

If you look at History of Science in the 1970s-1990s -- all leashes got slipped and in the end the discipline was much better grounded than before....and still nobody needs any leashes.

Aglaia
05-16-2008, 08:38 PM
So which Chaucer character had Cartman's voice?

Well, it was more of a "Chaucer as the medieval Parker and Stone" type of thing... Wildly interesting lectures, though. Definitely the opposite of esoteric and boring. :D



More seriously, some science education and training probably wouldn't hurt - but ultimately, one can hide behind science jargon without being scientific.

My primary concern with the idea of Lit Crit trying to adapt scientific methods is, well, literary scholars are very much not scientists. I did my undergraduate work in biology before getting an MA in lit, and I made the mistake once of trying to discuss evolution in relation to a novel in one of my graduate classes. Before I knew it, I was being accused of being a social Darwinist (not that anyone understood they were calling me that - they just didn't understand the theory of evolution enough to understand the difference). There was yelling and scoffing, and the word "Nazi" even made an appearance. Seriously, it was enough for me to swear off mixing science and crit for the rest of my program.

I see the benefits of it, absolutely. As a person trained in both disciplines, I hope that it eventually works. Putting it into practice - well - that's the challenge, isn't it?

Ruv Draba
05-17-2008, 12:13 AM
Slip their leash? What is this leash? What's the point in leashing scholars to some non-scholarly standards?
Who said anything about non-scholarly standards? Not that this is any more than opinion, but I propose leashing them to reasonable standards of scholarship and accountability, as opposed to the unreasonable ones presently permissible. More on that below.


If you look at History of Science in the 1970s-1990s -- all leashes got slipped and in the end the discipline was much better grounded than before....and still nobody needs any leashes.While I know the (small H) history of Science pretty well, I'm not familiar with the history of HoS Higgins, so let me therefore make a generic rhetorical response. There was a great fire in London once upon a time, which levelled the place. They rebuilt it much better, but that was not an argument against better building standards and fire-codes, but rather an argument for them. :)



My primary concern with the idea of Lit Crit trying to adapt scientific methods is, well, literary scholars are very much not scientists.Sympathies, Aglaia! I've had this problem in certain writer forums too (one reason I fled to AW, where delightfully I have not had this trouble, thanks to first-rate moderation and - it must be said - a better class of punter).

Science is a discipline because it requires us to separate what we believe about a proposition and how we feel about it from our hunt for evidence for and against it. It's the ability to be dispassionate about our questions and answers that lets us discover unpleasant truths like global warming, or find bugs in computer programs we've written, or diagnose disease. It also helps us get a keener sense of our ignorance. It's not perfect, but it produces reliable knowledge faster than building self-important rhetorical edifices and chucking rocks therefrom.

It's not some particular experimental method that makes science (we can invent and discard truckloads of methods), but the principles of dispassion, relentless inquiry, an objective view of evidence and producing contestable results.

I believe that objective and dispassionate, disciplined critique can be taught and learned. It can even be assessed in a reasonably reliable fashion (I use the FABRIC criteria, borrowed from business performance management: Is the crit Focused on the work, Appropriate to the subject matter, Balanced in its coverage, Robust against changes in perspective, Integrated with the knowledge and interests of the reader and Cost-Effective to read?)

I don't believe that literary scholars need to be experimental scientists, but I think that they do need to be clinical, humanitarian critics. If they're not doing that then I think that they're really essayists and social commentators pretending to be scholars. In which case, let them create original material under their own names rather than hiding behind flagrantly biased interpretation of someone else's original material. Or as Germaine Greer once irritably put it: "Get a real f*$#ing job!"

Eternal Student
05-17-2008, 06:37 AM
I feel that one of the better ways to shore up the literary criticism studies is to shore up our sadly lacking rhetoric studies. Studying the art and science of rhetoric in greater concentration would lead to better writing to criticize as far as current writers are concerned.
(Here is where I get offensive)Much of the literary critical canon has come from a Platonic search for the greater truth. I believe that a focus on the methods of rhetoric would allow more knowledge and analysis of communication on the part of the general populace. This would lead to a greater pool of potential academics, and re-invigorate literary criticism.

Ruv Draba
05-17-2008, 09:45 AM
I feel that one of the better ways to shore up the literary criticism studies is to shore up our sadly lacking rhetoric studies. Studying the art and science of rhetoric in greater concentration would lead to better writing to criticize as far as current writers are concerned.

(Here is where I get offensive)Much of the literary critical canon has come from a Platonic search for the greater truth. I believe that a focus on the methods of rhetoric would allow more knowledge and analysis of communication on the part of the general populace. This would lead to a greater pool of potential academics, and re-invigorate literary criticism.
Hi Eternal Student! :hi: (I bet you go through a lot of student cards~)

Rhetoric is one of those classical subjects that seems to have slipped off the modern curriculum. I've never studied it, but formed the impression that it was a sort of ancient Greek 'how to win friends and influence people' discipline. These days, 'rhetorical arguments' have the taint of the unethical about them - a sort of obfuscation of truth, rather than helping to reveal it.

(Notwithstanding that, all the very best speeches of latter times have some nice rhetoric in them, so maybe it's something that writers and other communicators really do need to know - and if writers know it, then critters should know it too.)

As for a Platonic search for truth... that too has a sort of oxymoronic feel to me - like Timothy Leary's search for sobriety. I can understand a Platonic search for beauty but unless you're Keats' greek urn, how can one confuse that with truth? (Erm.. maybe beauty is a form of emotional truth, but if so then so are non-beautiful things, like horror and hatred.)

(I was really looking forward to your last para being offensive, by the way. :cry:)

Aglaia
05-19-2008, 08:45 PM
Science is a discipline because it requires us to separate what we believe about a proposition and how we feel about it from our hunt for evidence for and against it.

I don't believe that literary scholars need to be experimental scientists, but I think that they do need to be clinical, humanitarian critics. If they're not doing that then I think that they're really essayists and social commentators pretending to be scholars.

Terribly well, put, Ruv Draba. I often had the same problem when reading criticism that was so obviously colored by modern thinking. My program (and perhaps just this particular time in history) was particularly caught up in feminist thinking, so everything, and I do mean everything, was feminist in nature. Rather amusing, I thought, to read published authors claiming that Chaucer was secretly rallying for women's rights in The Clerk's Tale. Amusing, that is, until I realized I was the only one who thought so...

Higgins
05-20-2008, 11:58 PM
While I know the (small H) history of Science pretty well, I'm not familiar with the history of HoS Higgins, so let me therefore make a generic rhetorical response. There was a great fire in London once upon a time, which levelled the place. They rebuilt it much better, but that was not an argument against better building standards and fire-codes, but rather an argument for them. :)


It's not some particular experimental method that makes science (we can invent and discard truckloads of methods), but the principles of dispassion, relentless inquiry, an objective view of evidence and producing contestable results.

I don't believe that literary scholars need to be experimental scientists, but I think that they do need to be clinical, humanitarian critics. If they're not doing that then I think that they're really essayists and social commentators pretending to be scholars. In which case, let them create original material under their own names rather than hiding behind flagrantly biased interpretation of someone else's original material. Or as Germaine Greer once irritably put it: "Get a real f*$#ing job!"

Well...I agree that there are plenty of good methodological standards in the sciences, but I think for the project of extending such methodological standards to literary studies, the place to look first is the discipline that discusses how such methodological standards work in practice, which is the History of Science. Not every scientist has to be a botanist and not every lit person has to be a botanist either...for example...but some more general look at how a discipline comes to put some methodological standards into practice could be useful for both botanists and literary critics.