No essay of which I am aware so accurately sums up the ethos of contemporary departments of literature as the first chapter of Jonathan Culler’s Framing the Sign: Criticism and its Institutions. If there has been any change in the discipline in the five years since the essay appeared, it has been in the nature of intensification of the situation he describes. And yet thoughtful reading of that essay is likely to induce schizophrenia. Evidently intended to set the stage for the remainder of the volume, the chapter provides a valuably concise history of the development and, especially, expansion of the study of literature in American universities in the twentieth century. A quick reading suggests that Culler is attempting to give a relatively objective account, one that does not omit cross-currents and conflicts. Nevertheless, the essay as a whole is an apologia for, even a celebration of, literary departments as they are. Are university teachers of literature as a whole so satisfied with themselves? Should they be?
KeywordsLiterary Criticism Literary Department Critical Writing Literary Meaning Symptomatic Meaning
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