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Uses of Literature Paperback – June 9, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-1405147248 ISBN-10: 1405147245 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 162 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; 1 edition (June 9, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1405147245
  • ISBN-13: 978-1405147248
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #863,275 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Together, Felski’s four short essays on recognition, enchantment, knowledge and shock leave me refreshed, invigorated, and willing to engage with my own reading responses both more critically and more charitably. She does achieve her aim, which is to get 'a better handle on how and why we read.'” (Academic Matters, January 2009)

"Felski finds that it is the structural elitism of the literary critics that has given theory its bad name … .Felski wants to find an 'ordinary' theory of literature and culture that would replace these hermeneutics of suspicion. Her strategy is to outline a theory of literature based on four modes of human interaction—recognition, enchantment, knowledge and shock. She devotes a chapter to each, marshalling a wide range of texts to illustrate her approach ... .The one on 'recognition is convincing'.. .Felski's manifesto is timely." (Times Higher Education Supplement, August 2008)

“Felski proposes a pragmatic approach to reading literature. Opposing the exclusive focus on otherness in contemporary literary theory, she offers a correction by balancing otherness with the acknowledgment of the presence of the self in reading literature.” (Choice Reviews, December 2008)

"A spirited defense of literature, full of ideas which promise to prove invigorating for the future development of literary theory. … An inspired discussion." (Journal of Literary Theory, 2008)


“For decades now, the picture of how we read held by literary theorists and that held by everyday common readers have been galaxies apart. But in this lucid, readable, and highly persuasive book, Rita Felski demonstrates the impossible: that recent literary theorists and common readers not only have something to say to each other, but actually need one another.”
–Gerald Graff, Professor of English and Education and 2008 President, Modern Language Association

“With literature and reading losing their appeal to young people by the year, this manifesto is all the more worthy and timely … People are moved by a novel, play, poem. That's what keeps literature alive and makes it important. Why does it happen? Uses of Literature explains it, restoring notions discredited in literary study but central to the experience of reading … Such a return to basics is just what our fading disciplines need if liberal education is to thrive.”
–Mark Bauerlein, Emory University

“As I would expect from a scholar of this calibre, the quality of thought is very high. What came as an unexpected pleasure was the quality of the writing – which is to say, the directness and clarity, the elegance and wit … I am convinced of the value of her [book] as a whole – that is, to ‘build better bridges’ between literary theory and common knowledge. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
–Gail McDonald, University of Southampton

Uses of Literature is a lively, sophisticated polemic about literary criticism and literary theorists … Extraordinarily well-written, intellectually expansive, [drawing] on a wide range of canonical and popular literature and film to illustrate Felski’s compelling account of literary value. And as a teacher, I found her individual chapters to be brimming with possibilities for the classroom, focusing, as they do, on the important heterogeneity of reading experiences.”
–Janet Lyon, Pennsylvania State University

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Someone is Wrong on the Internet on September 16, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The author argues that literary theory has done a poor job capturing how we actually experience and use literary works and seeks the remedy that fault. To that end, she focuses on four paradigmatic experiences we get out of literature: self-recognition, enchantment by surfaces, knowledge about social life, and shock of the alien. Rather than work from pre-set principles, she mostly work by induction, discussing a variety of texts and noting the commonalities. She is persuasive throughout; this has to be one of the best works on literary thoery I've ever read. If nothing else, it gives me faith in my own native reactions to literary works.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Yothgoboufnir on November 4, 2009
Format: Paperback
There is a lot to like in this book, but it does not constitute a breakthrough. Felski's approach is to turn from theory, suspicion, and otherness in evaluating literature toward intimacy, immediacy, and (even!) pleasure. I am sympathetic to Felski's literary aesthetic and thus her turn. But I felt the book was underwhelming in a few important respects.

Felski does not relate the different approaches one can take with literature. She does distinguish the approach that dominates academic work from the approach dominant in private reading. Academic work is very theoretical, is determined to find oppression (or otherness more generally) in stories, and is overall borderline antagonistic toward literature -- or at least toward literature as an aesthetic something. The private experience of literature we may roughly equate to how a non-academic reads books.

But Felski makes the keen observation that, when they find the time, even professors of literature "read for pleasure" in this "layperson's" mode. This is a crucial piece of evidence, because it contradicts the notion that the nonacademic reading mode, while seeming more fun, is just a superficial pastime of people who happen to lack literary sophistication. If sophisticated readers opt to read in the lay mode, it must have some indispensable value. The meat of Felski's book is a description of this nonacademic reading mode. But, the relationship between the two reading approaches is not characterized beyond the fact that they are not the same. This surprised me, considering that Felski sets out to show that the two modes are interdependent and mutually beneficial.

Furthermore, Felski's manifesto seems to be of limited appeal.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Atwater on April 30, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is an informed and thoughtful discussion of why we read fiction. With its elaborations upon recognition, enchantment, knowledge, and shock it has added substantially to my appreciation of novels. Felski's discussion of reasons why we read literature include informed and nuanced presentations of a variety of current critical perspectives on literature, showing how these both enhance and can be informed by her delineation of different uses of literature. Felski's presentations of these different critical perspectives are rendered clear throughout by the contexts in which she introduces these different critical viewpoints. I found this slim work to be immensely useful as an enhancement to my appreciation of the novel as well as of different contemporary approaches to the study of literature.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful By P. Panda on November 17, 2008
Format: Paperback
Rita Felski's book is a bridge between the two schools of thought on the importance of literature. In short, she explains the intent of the reader. One school which strictly foists literature on a pedestal of alternity and opposition to the seemingly lay-men attachment to literature for the sake of enjoyment (the 2nd school of thought). I have never read a book about literary criticsism that contained such lucidity and insight on the humaness that many object to saying has any influence in such a critical field. Honestly, I'm not even well versed (if at all) in this critical art.In fact I was just in my university library looking for a voice of inspiration for my own writing.

After reading the first page, I immediately checked out. Now, I am almost finished with it. This book focuses on four important ideas that explain why people read: recognition, enchantment, knowledge and shock. The inviting nature of these well reduced themes and the mastery of which Rita explains it makes this book worthwhile to anyone interested in what makes literature tick regardless of ideology.

Thank you Rita!
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1 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Laer Carroll on March 21, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The writing must surely be pitched only to those in the PhD literary community, or to those with pretensions to intellectuality. It was like grappling with Athena's serpents in the Trojan Horse myths to merely get through a single page. I have read books and reviews by Dr. Felski which are clear and literate, without being literately pretentious. I don't understand why she could not have done that here.
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