My…My Theoretical Mind…

March 27, 2007

Thanks to an off-handed remark made by Herman Furry Paws over at HB….&T! I got to thinking about Walter Benjamin, and just how much fun it would be to own his Gesammelte Schriften (trust me: it would be a lot–maybe not more than the Gesammelte Schriften von ichbeißeIhreAugen! but it would be worth more than a few chuckles). Illuminations (I’ll admit to only having read it in English) is probably my favorite body of criticism, and has had a dramatic effect on the way I read literature. This in turn got me thinking about what criticism/theory has had the biggest effect on me overall. Or, to put it another way, which books have been most responsible for leading me astray. Without them, I no-doubt would have continued my beyond practical study, “Semaphore and the Age of Semiotics.” Here is the resulting list, in no order what so ever.

Bakhtin, Dialogic Imagination, and The Creation of Prosaics. Bakhtin is probably the best theorist of the Novel. Others have tried to match his work (Lukacs didn’t do too bad a job), but no-one else has been as persuasive in showing the hybridity of the form. His theories on multiple strata of languages have also been exceedingly influential, although the best application of these ideas that I ever read, better perhaps than Bakthin’s own, was David G. Roskies’ essay, “Inside Sholem Shachnah’s Hat.”

Propp, Morphology of the Folktale. Scientific literary analysis at its finest. You have to love a work that breaks down and systematizes every narrative element of a folktale. Oh, and here’s a great folktale generator based on his ideas. And while we’re on Narratology… Poetics Today, 21:3 the first Harshav festschrift issue and Alan Mintz’s article, “On the Tel Aviv School of Poetics,” that introduced me to the glories of the field.

Benjamin, “The Storyteller.” The best essay I’ve ever read. Is it about War and Literature ore part of another part of Benjamin’s theories of distance and aura? The work only grows in nuance as I read more Benjamin. Also, The Arcades Project. Every scholar dreams of a monument like that.

Butler, Gender Trouble. I only wish she’d extended the scope of her essay to include the trouble with tribbles.

Bloom, Anxiety of Influence. Bloom is incredibly readable, and a wonderfully fascinating person who advised (and hated) my friend’s thesis. I personally find his work too often invoked in too cursory a manner, but treated with the care Bloom gives, with such an interconnected group of writes that Bloom treats, the work is monumentally important. I should also mention Geoff Klock’s “How to Read Superhero Comics and Why,” a Bloomian analysis of comics that comes into its own in its final chapter (Klock’s also currently reviewing Morrison’s New X-Men run over at his blog, and I hope someone at the salad more familiar with the Morrison run will comment on the analysis. Great blog).

I’m going to end by just saying a few more titles: Wimsatt, “The Intentional Fallacy”; Auerback, Mimesis; Mitchell, Picture Theory (a must read); Derrida, The Postcard; Bill Brown, A Sense of Things; and Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?”

I expect papers in the morning.

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