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Critique and Postcritique

Edited by
Elizabeth S. Anker
Elizabeth S. Anker

Elizabeth S. Anker is Associate Professor of English at Cornell University and the author of Fictions of Dignity: Embodying Human Rights in World Literature.

Rita Felski is William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of English at the University of Virginia and the author of many books, most recently, The Limits of Critique.

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Rita Felski
Rita Felski

Elizabeth S. Anker is Associate Professor of English at Cornell University and the author of Fictions of Dignity: Embodying Human Rights in World Literature.

Rita Felski is William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of English at the University of Virginia and the author of many books, most recently, The Limits of Critique.

Search for other works by this author on:
Duke University Press
ISBN electronic:
978-0-8223-7304-9
Publication date:
2017
Book Chapter

“Nothing Is Hidden”: From Confusion to Clarity; or, Wittgenstein on Critique

By
Toril Moi
Toril Moi
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Published:
March 2017

In literary criticism, proponents of critique assume that texts have hidden meanings that must be uncovered by the critic. This has given rise to the idea that “suspicious” or “symptomatic” reading is a specific method of “deep” reading, as opposed to “surface” reading. Drawing on Wittgenstein and Cavell’s thought, Moi challenges such views. Talk about surfaces and depth do no work for literary critics. Just as there is no “approach” to language, there is no method in literary criticism. Even famous suspicious readers such as Sherlock Holmes and Sigmund Freud don’t read any differently from other critics: they simply look and think. The suspicious critic is convinced that texts lead us astray; Wittgenstein thinks we get lost in our own words. For him, philosophy is the attempt to get from such self-inflicted confusion to clarity. In literary criticism, this means trying to answer the question “Why this?”

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