Literary Criticism Criticism

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At The Chronicle of Higher Education, Jeffrey J. Williams takes on the question of the role of literary criticism, both historically and in the current moment. In a world where big data is king, criticism has increasingly moved away from radical political pronouncements and metaphysical interventions, and toward what Sharon Marcus and Steven Best have termed “surface reading”: methods that, by and large, accept that a work isn’t hiding its true intentions, but rather aims to enrich understanding by putting texts in context and reading larger trends. The article calls into question the notion that literary criticism is particularly revolutionary or effective as a political tool, and points out the pitfalls of a critical stance so suspicious as to be constantly undermining authors and texts, but also gives voice to detractors of surface reading who suggest that critics have become less ambitious.


Dinah Fay is a poet, copywriter, and social media maven living in Brooklyn. She is the co-host of the Brick City Speaks reading series in Newark, where she is pursuing an MFA in writing from Rutgers University. More from this author →