14 July 2008
J.L. Austin says of fiction and poetry: "These are aetiolations, parasitic uses, etc., various 'not serious' and 'not full normal' uses. The normal conditions of reference may be suspended, or no attempt made at a standard perlocutionary act, no attempt to make you do anything, as Walt Whitman does not seriously incite the eagle of liberty to soar." How to do Things with Words (104)
[etiolated = weak, pale, feeble
perlocution = an act of speaking or writing that has an action as its aim, such as persuading or convincing]
Whence, then, criticism?* It is parasitic on this parasitic form. It feeds only on the text of the fiction; comments on language that, overtly by definition and tacitly by admission, has no purchase on reality in either a descriptive/correlative sense or a persuasive one. Is the enterprise of criticism, then, the bacterium in the belly of the leech? Do two wrongs (two texts divorced from reality) make a right, or do they carry us farther away, insulating us even further from our target? What credibility can the critic have when faulting fiction for a lack of 'realism'?
Just asking... It seems the nature of fiction is always under discussion in the blogosphere, though never the nature of criticism.
* We're not now going to get into the whole Derrida/Searle debate that ensued after Austin's provocation on this point and animated any number of Anglo-American philosophy departments. But, speaking of 'not full normal' and soaring eagles and parasitic, for your listening pleasure we give you the former Attorney General of the United States of America: