Who's Afraid of Content-Driven Criticism?
We might want to reco nsid er our formali st criti cal attitudes to literature along the lines suggested by the questi on imm orta lised by Stanl ey Fish: "Is the re a text in this class?" 1 Rather than stayin g with the notion of int erpr etive communities, however, I w ould lik e to u se th e questi on as a wake -up call to redire ct attention from theory to text, and allow our seh •es to ask an oth er imp ortant question: "Is this text about an ythin g?" W e may find out , as a reward for
... infinite courage, that for a text to be "seriously, even passionately, about some thing," as the eminent postmodernist novelist and auth or of fictional aut obiographi es John Barth insisted the case should be ,2 is not, after all, mutu ally exclusive w ith the text being poetic ally creat ed, ver bally spectacular, or structurall y impeccable; we may indeed conclude that for a text to be about somethin g will not nec essarily diminish the pleasur es of th e text. Why would it preclud e any pleasur e inde ed, one might wonder. Th e answer leads into the heart of academ ic debat es about the liter ary canon and th e power struggles conducted around inclusion and exclusion of student bodie s, bodies of texts, and m emb ers of staff. Th ere are losses to suffer and pri vileges to gain, all hanging in the balance. The dang ers of havin g to sit throu gh defences of dissertations w here one nev er eYen heard of the author s' n ame s, let alone read the works discus sed, will have to be pitched against th e fre edom t o study wh at on e is