- 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: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #392,260 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Uses of Literature 1st Edition
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"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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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!
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. Normally I don't evaluate books based on whether or not I think someone else will get something out of it -- such an evaluation would be difficult and unreliable, but also beside the point. After all, some books are obscure, some are widely read, but to the people who care about an obscure topic, a good book on that topic is no less good because few people care to read it. However, this particular book's goal is to show the mutualism relating two reading modes. As it fails to relate them, the book fails to show practitioners of either mode what use they could do with the other.
Nonacademics are quite quite unlikely to read this book, and it seems clear Felski did not write with the intention of her book being widely read by nonacademics. The style is simply not accessible. And are academics likely to be interested in Felski's approach? Felski is editor at the journal 'New Literary History' and as a result I would expect at least some academics to try out her suggestion for the simple purpose of enhancing their scholarly productivity. One might suspect journal submissions are more likely to be accepted, and more likely to acquire the citations that come along with attention from prominent colleagues, if the submissions participate in an editor's effort to promote a new way of discussing literature.
In this book Felski herself is candid about the professional challenges for literary scholars: to find something new to say and an intelligent-sounding way to say it. Felski specifically points out that the evaluative frameworks (theories) and the scholarly vocabularies change rapidly; this struck me as reminiscent of fashion, where people copy each other and judge each other according to standards for which no basis is apparent. This is not the only reasonable way to interpret Felski's observations; for example one might imagine literary scholars are simply doing lots of very innovative work. Maybe.
In any event Felski's candor is immensely admirable in a context such as this, especially considering her role as a journal editor, but the critiques she articulates often seem to apply to this very book. Many many sentences and quite a few longer passages were stuffed with verbiage. Felski is especially fond of offering not one point, argument, statement, but of saying one thing in an unhelpful repetition of expressions, phrases, locutions. (A lot like that last sentence.) She flashes unnecessarily esoteric terms in a style reinforcing my interpretation of Felski's earlier observation in terms of fashion, rather than innovation. Still Felski's candor is nice, ironically as it manifests.
Overall, the main effort in the book is to articulate a certain mode of reading. I think Felski does this pretty well, although the work is not very novel. Felski doesn't suppose it is, except that it could be a new mode of work for many many academics. Felski's enthusiasm for literature is one of the best things about this book: it manifests consistently but unobtrusively. More than her methodical argumentation, her enthusiasm carries her point forward. And this isn't to say Felski is superficial or a weak thinker, by the way. This books does some useful things pretty well, though it does underwhelm in some respects, and it does not effect a breakthrough.