Riffaterre, Michael
January 2002
Romanic Review;Jan-Mar2002, Vol. 93 Issue 1/2, p185
Academic Journal
Literary Criticism
The fear that literary theory inspires needs to be explained. One cannot deny that this fear is very real, since most current discussions of literary theory echo doubts about its usefulness, or question whether a separate theory is needed for literature alone. The first position implies that the practice of the texts is quite enough. It seems to assume that conscious reading will blossom forth into evaluative criticism. For such to be enlightened criticism, taste and a sense of tradition should suffice, together with an open-minded readiness for the future. Sensibly enough, this practice leans on the crutch of philology. It expects literary history to provide the diachronic dimension and supply means to detect influences, account for readers' awareness of genres, and even, perhaps less prudently, justify aesthetic tenets of "imitatio," originality, and revolution versus evolution. Halfway between this opposition to theory per se and the denial of a need for a theory ad hoc, a not inconsiderable school hopes to find in history itself a contextualization of literature, the need for which is assumed to be obvious enough to require no theoretical underpinnings.


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