The Pooh Perplex
Posted by Helen on July 28, 1998 at 14:51:43:
In response to "Literary Theory", written by Erin on July 27, 1998 at 18:10:27
As usual at the moment, I have no time to engage with this fascinating subject (it's a little too near my present anxieties for it to count as relaxation). But I was reading today about mediaeval and Renaissance schools of criticism: basically, in the Middle Ages men worked on the principle laid down by Augustine that all readings which tended to the common good of charity were acceptable, and therefore they didn't contradict each other but merely stated what had been already said and then laid their own thoughts on top. However, Renaissance critics, concerned to display their rhetorical skills, grounded their criticism in debate and opposition - with themselves, if they had no other opponents - and created a climate where several competing interpretations, rather than one mass of interpretation, existed.
I know that the mediaeval school led to a lot of woolly-mindedness, but in some ways I find it much more appealing than the Renaissance insistance that there can only be one true interpretation... and that's mine!
And if you want a less rigorous guide to the literary schools of thought, you might like to seek out a book called The Pooh Perplex by Frederick Crews, which applies them with deliciously straightfaced irony to Winnie-The-Pooh. Neither Chicago nor New Criticism come off particularly well, as I recall: Chicago becomes a quest for the Ur-Pooh, and a debate on how the illustrations can show Pooh with a jar on which the word "Hunny" is written, when no-one in the forest is capable of writing it like that..., while the New Criticism book is entitled, Another Book To Cross off Your List. It's very funny, and I heartily recommend it.
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