The Debate with Method in the History of Literary CriticismMark Hewson (The University of Melbourne)
221 Burwood Hwy
This paper interrogates the assumptions underlying the institutional self-definition of literary studies. Drawing on an analysis proposed by Hans Blumenberg, I argue that the ideals associated with research and scholarship, have their historical origin in the concept of method, which is introduced by Descartes, and which subsequently underpins both the natural and the social sciences. The concept of method, I suggest, is taken for granted as an ideal, without its implications being fully reflected upon, throughout the history of literary studies – by the philologists and historical scholars with which academic literary studies began, by the New Critics who consolidated the field in the middle decades of the 20th century, and by contemporary theoretical modes of literary studies. The paper also refers to the points of dissidence to this model, which appear in each of the national traditions of literary studies. This dissidence provides the materials for a conceptualization of literary studies as a specific form of knowledge, one that would be defined by the articulation of the subject of reading (and criticism) and the subject of method.
Mark Hewson is the author of Blanchot and Literary Criticism and the editor of Georges Bataille: Key Concepts. He gives lectures with the Melbourne School of Continental Philosophy and is a casual academic at the University of Melbourne.
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