Literary analysis is much less predicated upon correctness or provability of findings or the incontrovertibility of evidence. Instead, its "success" relies on such parameters as originality, appropriateness, inventiveness, or "insight value": it may be measured by our degree of satisfaction with what is revealed or illuminated about a text.Even (or especially) the people who were speaking most fervently for the postmodernist perspective rushed to distance themselves from the view in that quote. "This is where I have to draw a line", said one, "I am a historian." "We cannot abandon the truth criterion", said another. Whatever their goals and measures of success, they all expressly believe in correctness, provability, and the strength of evidence. It was kinda hip to flirt with that stuff, but when this concrete claim came up about what literary analysis aims to do, it was like somebody was screaming ‘fire’ in their crowded theater: Panic gripped the audience and they fled en masse.
It turns out, all these historians agree fundamentally about the value of working closely with primary materials (what some might call ‘data’) and taking seriously what they find there. They also seem to agree on the need to interpret that material carefully and critically and in principled ways, using tools appropriate to reaching the particular goal at hand (what some would call ‘methods, theories’).
On looking over that quote, though, I wonder if its author isn’t declaring literary analysis to be part of the arts, or some creative process divorced from research and scholarship — if you’ve abandoned “correctness or provability of findings or the incontrovertibility of evidence” as very high priorities, I find it hard to call it ‘scholarship’ any more.
But the issue of Occam’s Razor came up, where a social historian challenged a historian with more of a ‘cultural theory’ perspective. The latter, a very well-spoken person speaking in public in a formal setting opened his comments somewhat later by talking about …
the gash from which I’m still bleeding from.Just in case you doubt the story about preposition doubling that appeared recently over on Language Log.