Wednesday, 10 October 2007

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The Key to Literary Theory: Don't be an Asshole Since this comment's been linked to a few times, I thought I'd lift it from the thread and score a cheap post. The context: I turned in the paper savaged in yesterday's post. It came back with comments to the effect of: I'm giving you an "A," but come talk to me. You don't want to become an asshole. But There Is Danger. Office hours Monday. Please attend. Don't, and for certain, you'll become an asshole. I showed up on Monday morning to receive my dressing-down. Went something like this: You like theory, and that's awesome. I wish more kids were enthusiastic. BUT—and this is an ALL-CAPS, BOLDED "BUT"—there are different ways to approach theoretical problems. I'll charitably define yours as an "entitled imperialism," because you believe that reading a tiny excerpt of a three-part philosophical masterpiece entitles you to lay waste to Kant's entire project. You can't do that. Only assholes can. Hence, The Danger. You have to take writers seriously, study them, the commentary on them, and then—and ONLY then—should you assert yourself as you did in this paper. Only it took an hour to deliver, and was peppered with detailed examples from secondary literature on Kant to show me what engaged critique actually looks like. I left the office in tears, but with a firm idea of what solid theoretical critique looked like. If only it hadn't taken three years for me to produce any ... but that's another story. (Also, if you haven't read the comments on that last post, you've missed out on J.S. Nelson's maudlin tale of intellectual un-discovery and Human's inspiring story of Kant, conversion, and sexual discovery ... and are the worse for it.)

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