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Literature against Philosophy, Plato to Derrida: A Defence of Poetry [Paperback]

by Mark Edmundson
2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 30, 1995 0521485320 978-0521485326
This timely book focuses on theory's relations to literary art. It argues that the institutionalization of literary theory, particularly in American universities, has led to an intellectual sterility in which the actual power and scope of literature are overlooked. The book demands to be read by all teachers of literature and theory, and by anyone concerned with the future of literary studies.

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Editorial Reviews


"In a series of brilliantly argued reflections on critical terms like presence and blindness and insight, the author demonstrates the various ways that poetry, here a synecdoche for any creative cultural experience, defends itself against the life-draining powers of critical theory....Edmundson's elegant essay sounds a clarion call for a conversation between theory and poetry in which the voice of poetry both challenges theory and sustains itself. Masterful cultural criticism in the tradition of Leavis and Trilling." Choice

"By focusing on the condescension with which philosophy has, since Plato, treated poetry, Edmundson has given us a remarkably successful and genuinely original treatment of the relation between contemporary European philosophy and American literary criticism." Richard Rorty

" many, a voice as sweet and civil as his is enough to make the molars ache. Not that Edmundson always makes believing look easy, but he dances rather gracefully with the 'descendental' as he sings a late-millennial tribute to 'the poems we love.' His analysis of sophisticated doubters is impressive for its resepctful tone. Edmundson models how a traditional literary intellectual uses, rather than bests, not only what important philosophers promise, but also what literature delivers." Philosophy and Literature

"Literature Against Philsophy may well be our most brilliant synthetic account of the "function of criticism at the present time," an achievement all the more impresive because it entails providing an equally brilliant critique of contemporary "theory". It would be hard to overpraise Edmundson's deeply intelligent and penetrating analysis: not only does he offer an extraordinary glossing of the ancient quarrel between poetry and philosophy..." Charles Eric Reeves, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism

Book Description

Arguing that the institutionalization of literary theory, particularly within American universities, has led to a intellectual sterility in which the actual power and scope of literature are overlooked, this text is essential reading for all teachers of literature and theory.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (June 30, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521485320
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521485326
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.4 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,800,203 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

2.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine read February 28, 2006
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
After reading the other two reviews of this book, I had to chime in. This book is, I think, a fantastic piece of work. It is exactly what the title says it is. Edmundson pits the theorists up against the literature they theorize about, and asks, "Which one leaves us with a better understanding of the world and more hope for a better future?" The answer, as you might imagine, is literature.

If you have a prejudice against the notion that creative writers might know what they're talking about, and that the creative work can be read "as theory" itself, then this book probably won't convince you otherwise (as the other reviews make clear). But if you're intrigued by the idea that the poets might not be as bad as Plato made out, then I think you'll find the book to be nothing less than a treat.
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2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Submission or emancipation August 2, 2008
If you find the obsessive truth holders who chase, pester, harass and blabber; then, this book is a balm. After reading it you'll realise that your friends were right, the best way to deal with a fanatic is to avoid them. If you've ever read a book and found yourself brow beaten by some bozo with a multi-coloured interpretive fan on his/her head; then, this book will calm you. It reminds us that human consciousness does not have to be funneled into carefully moulded plastic tubes that mirror the conceptual mosaics designed by the bozos. Should we submit and cry as they bore us till blood seeps out of our ears? Or should we skip with book in hand to the emancipation tune written by the great Professor Edmundson? Nazi collaborators always produce theories that aim to control us in that lovely fascist fashion. They love submission and they hate when we refuse to join the club. So, Colonel Klink de Man and his cohort of obsessed conformists hate this book. It is not intellectual enough, meaning it refused to propel thought through those plastic tubes; therefore, it did not arrive at the expected end. Imagine writing a book that frees readers to return to literature minus the tyranny of the academic. It's tantamount to freeing science from the fundamentalists. Imagine science as a liberating force: not as a new form of fanaticism. Imagine literary criticism as interpretation: not as ossification. Thank you Mark Edmundson. Highly recommended.
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12 of 37 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars SUCH a one-star book! August 6, 2004
I was so happy to see the "Not worth the cost" review. My only A+ in grad school was a paper slamming this sorry little book. I remember Edmundson's going on for pages about how terrible Paul de Man supposedly is, and then, when it came time to illustrate WHY PdM is so bad ... Edmundson does a reading of a Wordsworth poem in what he claims is the manner of De Man, instead of looking at one of De Man's own readings! And yet this guy is a Professor ... further evidence that English is not a "discipline."

The title should be "Pragmatism Against Literature and Philosophy." I think Edmundson has his heart in the right place, but he appears to've been spending too much time around Richard Rorty, literally and on the page.
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8 of 28 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not worth the cost June 24, 2004
The vogue, since the late 80s, of attempting to discredit theory by those who have not mastered the tradition, the philosophical background, or the methods finds a somewhat less strident voice here but not one that does the thinking reader a service. Unfortunately, this text is so much less acute and informed than those it tries to encounter that it does them and itself a disservice. If you would like to begin to understand the problems of literature and philosophy, read some of the texts themselves, not this partial and unintentionally parodic rendition.
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