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Uses of Literature 1st Edition

6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1405147248
ISBN-10: 1405147245
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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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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: 10.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #518,217 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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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10 of 14 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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Hayden V. White on May 21, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a magisterial treatment of the current state of literary studies in the academy and what we ought to do about by the editor of the authoritative journal, New Literary History. Felski wants to return literary studies to the pleasures and payoffs of reading, an activity which has recently, in her estimation, suffered neglect at the hands of "theorists" more interested in concepts than in the sensibilities of both writers and readers. It is full of informed common sense, learning, and sense of social responsibility of scholars of literature. It is written in a style that is accessible to the ordinary reader as well as to experts and has the special virtue of summarizing the impact of women's history, feminist, and gender studies on the humanities.
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