Thursday, 01 May 2008

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Concerning the Fine Line Between Literary Criticism and Rank Paranoia It's not so fine. Bad readings often resemble paranoid ravings because the critic draws specious connections between irrelevant topics. Ninety-two percent of Pynchon criticism never escapes the paranoid orbit of his novels for a reason. When you inform someone his analogy borders on criminal infelicity—e.g. the presence of shoes in the novels of Jane Austen and Kathy Acker represents an irrational fear of hormiga brava and thus constitutes an implicit indictment of European imperialism—the ideal response would be a frank acknowledgment by this person that the intensity of his research may have skewed his perspective. "I have read too closely," he should admit. "I sound like a belligerent wino." Under no circumstances should he declare his professional credentials authorize the paranoid ravings of a belligerent wino. Which brings us to the case of Priya Venkatesan. Those who seek background or a serious discussion of Venkatesan should consult Margaret Soltan and Timothy Burke. I simply want to register my disgust with her pedagogical and interpretive skills. From her interview with The Dartmouth Review: TDR: There is one specific incident where I heard from one of the girls in your class who was pretty outspoken, and one day she hadn’t spoken for a while and you said, “Could we have a round of applause for this girl, she hasn’t spoken in ten minutes?” PV: She was probably the most abrasive, the most offensive, the most disruptive student. She ruined that class. She ruined it. She ruined it. That class actually had a lot of potential, there were some really bright kids there, but every time she would do a number of things that were very inappropriate. [...] Then what happened was, I was lecturing on morals and ethics and she just gave me this horrible look, and I was pretty disturbed. I just said what is going on here? The problem with [girl x] is that she can’t take criticism. She can’t take the fact that there is something wrong with her work. Now, some people are like that, a lot of people are like that, unable to take criticism, but the fact of the matter is that I have the PhD in literature, I make the assessment if someone has talent for philosophy, literary theory, and literary criticism. A student might say, well, the hell with you I’m still going to become a literary critic, I had to do that, there were people who criticized me while I was a student, you’re not a good writer or whatever, but I said well I’m still going to go ahead with my goals, but I never made any personal attacks on them or made life difficult for them or was rude to them. I just did the socially acceptable way of dealing with criticism, and [girl x] is the kind of student who does not know the socially acceptable way of dealing with criticism. She thinks the way to go about doing it is to go to my superior or to try to...

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