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Wednesday, 13 September 2006

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forgottenboy

Could you elaborate on the end of your post (which, by the way, is a nice pointer to a couple of new things to read)? Gross seems to be doing something that more closely resembles the sci-fi phenomenon of "fan fiction" than literary criticism. Laughing with Shylock? Reading over Fitzgerald's imaginary shoulder? Who has the patience to work their way backwards from such a thing to the implied argument about the text? It seems like this runs very counter to your notions of scholarly responsibility; perhaps that's what you're saying.

I looked at Dollimore when writing on Lear. It would be hard to think of a better example of a critic so perceptive, and so careless, according to his initial biases. Dollimore's post-structuralist training enables him to make a brilliant reading of the Fool's "O without a figure," and his leftism makes him keenly aware of the play's compassion for the underclasses. On the other hand, his fashionable distrust of literature makes him sneer that, even in fiction, the wheel of fortune rarely brings princes as low as the poor. It is hard to imagine what else he would want Lear to suffer.

Dollimore's related distrust of philosophy, including the Stoicism Shakespeare inherited from Montaigne, makes him a bad reader of Edward's Tom. Tom's speech, in Dollimore's opinion, "adds up to nothing more than the incoherent ramblings of one half-crazed by just that suffering which philosophy, according to the Stoic, guards against." Language in Shakespeare tends not to add up to incoherent ramblings, and Poor Tom is no exception. For example, Edward's line "St. Withold thrice-footed the old" is about himself; he is walking with his old father, and he is withholding his identity. The reference to the "third foot" is a reference to the Sphinx's riddle (solved by Oedipus), which is why Lear calls Tom a "learned Theban."

Apologies for the close reading; but the idea is to illustrate how the theoretical approach can lead to both Blindness and Insight. And this is something that I think you, as someone who tries to maintain a certain critical distance from theory, see feelingly.

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