Two small gems of wisdom have come to my attention. As they both made me think long and hard about my approach(es) to reading romance novels, I’ll share them both.
First, at my convocation last weekend, the address was given by Professor Wendy Doniger, who teaches at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago. In her address entitled “Thinking More Critically About Thinking Too Critically: Reading Past the Classics,” Doniger spoke of the necessity of reading through or past the problematic elements of what is considered “classic” literature. She described three stages of response to racist, sexist, imperialist and otherwise problematic constructions in texts. First, there is the unthinking acceptance of structures of oppression that characterizes the initial production and reception of the work. Second, there is the critical backlash that sees nothing but the racism, the sexism, the flaws in logic, and the lack of human feeling. Finally, Doniger spoke of a third response that recuperates the whole value of the text while simultaneously remaining honest about the text’s participation in structures of oppression. She characterized the movement from the second to the third response as (memory don’t fail me now!) moving from a “hermeneutics of suspicion” to a “hermeneutics of reconciliation or recovery.” It was an interesting final challenge from a university that spent four years training me to be entirely (too) critical.
Second, in the introduction to Indiana (translation by Sylvia Raphael), George Sand writes,
Criticism is far too clever; that is what will be the death of it. It never judges straightforwardly what has been done straightforwardly. It looks for midday at two in the afternoon, as the old saying goes, and it must have done a great deal of harm to those artists who pay too much attention to its opinions.
Those are fightin’ words as I continue to wonder just how much leeway I have to pick up a text and run with it.
As I only have a precious few days left with my final batch of books checked out from the Reg, I should soon be done with my essay on Loretta Chase’s Mr. Impossible and Lisa Pollard’s work on imperialism and domesticity. Until then, enjoy your summer reading!