Theses Doctoral

Useful Works: Literary Criticism and Aesthetic Education

North, Samuel Joseph

This dissertation identifies the scholarly historicist/contextualist paradigm on the basis of which most work in the discipline of English Literature now proceeds, and proposes a critical and materialist paradigm as an alternative. The first two chapters offer a new reading of the history of the discipline of English Literature. Chapter one traces the early history of the discipline from the 1920s through to the mid twentieth century, focussing on the project of literary criticism, as distinct from the project of literary scholarship. It demonstrates that literary criticism's characteristic methodologies of "close reading" and "practical criticism" were initially created as the tools of a broader project of aesthetic education, where the category of the aesthetic was being rethought in instrumental or incipiently materialist terms. This model of criticism was then turned to quite different purposes by later critics, who were committed to an idealist account of the aesthetic. Chapter two traces the history of the discipline from the late 1970s to the present, identifying a "scholarly turn" that transformed it from a discipline housing both the project of literary criticism and the project of literary scholarship, into a discipline that housed the project of literary scholarship alone. On the basis of this history, the dissertation goes on to argue for the development of a new project of literary criticism, understood as the close engagement with literary texts for the purposes of cultivating readers' aesthetic sensibilities. The third and fourth chapters begin to lay the foundation for such a project. Chapter three attempts to provide criticism with both a new philosophical basis in a materialist account of the aesthetic, and a new way to conceptualise its institutional site as a site of radical, rather than liberal, education. Chapter four attempts to provide criticism with the first elements of a methodology of reading by way of a case study of Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway (1925). The dissertation thus has four elements: in chapters one and two, a historical element; in chapter three, philosophical and institutional elements; and in chapter four, a methodological element. Taken together, these provide at least the few first sketches of a foundation on which a project of materialist aesthetic criticism might seek to establish itself today.



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More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Dames, Nicholas J.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 16, 2013