An Anonymous Manifesto by Some Bearded Guy Living in a Shack
Let's assume that the Statue of Liberty is Literature--or
better yet, a specific literary text, say Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom.
This work is a magnificent structure; its great scope works on several
levels. Now, from anywhere nearby in New York Harbor we can appreciate
Absalom, or we can get inside it and appreciate certain details up
close. Literary criticism, at its basic level, tells us just such things.
But it tells us a great deal more, besides. So let's say we go to the text, in N.Y. Harbor, to admire it (or we've sent a student to do the same). And what we find is this: not just a text, the Statue of Liberty, but two statues. For standing next to "Miss Liberty" is an immense structure, The Body of Criticism, that has grown up next to the original work.
(Good lit.crit. needs graphics. Here are my approximations
of the Statue of Liberty and its companion edifice, rendered by French
impressionists I guess. Although if I were doing a purely representational
job, Absalom, Absalom would be a thing of wonder and the other thing
would be an awkward and intrusive business of plywood and steel.)
What started out with about the same stature as the gift shop (a little place nearby where you could buy postcards and copper miniatures of the statue) has grown into an immense structure itself, so that a reader who doesn't know differently could assume that Absalom, Absalom includes this second edifice, that the critical work has value equal to the work itself, even though much of this secondary structure is purely speculative--merely scaffolding that grew up to enable workers a better position to view the work. The innocent student gets a view of the statue distorted by the behemoth beside it.
This is one aspect of what troubles me about lit.crit. It has assumed (comments by Steinbeck, Amy Tan, and others convince me that "assume" is the right word) a greater part of the Harbor than its due.
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